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.
- 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.