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Family structure and child maltreatment: Do some family types place children at greater risk?

15 Nov 2012
Description

Reviewing current research on family structures, this paper aims to assist practitioners and policy-makers who work with children and families to make evidence-informed decisions.

This paper reviews the research on whether some family structures expose children to a higher risk of child maltreatment than others. It aims to assist practitioners and policy-makers who work with children and families to make evidence-informed decisions.

Key messages

  • The research on whether particular family structures place children at higher risk of maltreatment has produced complex and often ambiguous results.
  • While most of the available research suggests that children in sole-mother families and step families tend to be at higher risk of maltreatment than those in married families, not all findings are consistent.
  • In general, much of the perceived relationship between family structure and child maltreatment can be explained by factors such as poverty, substance misuse and domestic violence.
  • There is no single cause of child maltreatment. Rather, maltreatment reflects the effects of multiple, dynamic, interrelated and, often, cumulative risk factors.
  • Sole-mother families, sole-father families, and step or blended families are overrepresented in Australia's child protection systems. However, there are a number of limitations to the Australian child protection data, which must be noted when interpreting this finding.
  • Although family structure is an easily identifiable risk factor for child maltreatment, its influence can easily be - and is often - exaggerated. It is important that practitioners and policy-makers look further and identify other risk factors that may be more conducive to intervention.

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Published year only: 
2012
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