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

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

Cathryn Hunter and Rhys Price-Robertson

CFCA Paper No. 10 — November 2012
Family structure and child maltreatment: Do some family types place children at greater risk?

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.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Cathryn Hunter is a Research Officer and Rhys Price-Robertson is a Senior Research Officer with the Child Family Community Australia information exchange at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The authors would like to acknowledge the valuable input of Kerryann Walsh, Veronica Meredith and Ken Knight.

Publication details

CFCA Paper
No. 10
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, November 2012.
12 pp.

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