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Research / Discovery

Role of good relationships in cycle of abuse

October 4, 2013

For young adults who were maltreated as children, a safe, stable and nurturing relationship can play an important role in breaking the intergenerational cycle of maltreatment.

drawing of a familyThe role of these relationships has positive power, according to a Centers for Disease Control initiated study co-investigated by Kimberly Henry, a researcher in Colorado State University’s Department of Psychology.

The CDC appointed a special panel of investigators including Kimberly Henry, a CSU researcher in the College of Natural Sciences, from four different intergenerational studies to answer the question of how positive relationships can help break the cycle of maltreatment. Henry and research partner Terence Thornberry of the University of Maryland looked at data from a study that began in 1988 in Rochester, New York, called the Rochester Intergenerational Study.

These positive relationships are coined SSNRs, or safe, stable and nurturing relationships.  Consistent with the CDC’s expectation, they do seem to play an important role for victims of child maltreatment.

“Our findings indicate that when an adult victim of child maltreatment has a positive and healthy relationship with a spouse/partner or with their own children, they are less likely to maltreat,” Henry said. Maltreatment is defined as the failure to act as a parent or caretaker which results in physical or emotional harm to the child, or presents an imminent risk of harm.

 “For example, having a good relationship with a spouse or partner – one that is warm, caring and supportive – as an adult can decrease the likelihood that someone who was maltreated will then do the same to the next generation of children – their children or someone else’s.”

Panel results also point to importance of safe relationships

The other three intergenerational studies reviewed by the CDC Division of Violence Prevention panel, found a similarly beneficial role of safe, stable and nurturing relationships for maltreatment victims, all of the papers were published last week in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“The collection of studies demonstrates the critical importance of healthy relationships in adulthood,” Henry said. “Our next steps should be to determine if programs, practices and policies designed to build and enhance these relationships can indeed prevent child maltreatment.”  





Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
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