Incorporating Discussion of Sibling Violence in the Curriculum of Parent Intervention Programs for Child Abuse and Neglect

Article excerpt

Physical and emotional violence among siblings is one aspect of family dynamics that is often overlooked by practitioners working with children and families receiving services for abuse and neglect. One reason for this may be the limited attention that violence between siblings has received in comparison with other forms of family violence. Button and Gealt (2010) noted the need for more research in this area as well as increased efforts to prevent this form of family violence. One national study identified sibling violence as the most common form of family violence (Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980); others have concluded that sibling conflict is rather typical, stating that it occurs daily for approximately 50 percent of young children (Dunn & Kendrick, 1982). The effects of sibling violence can lead to poor peer relations and behavioral problems (Stormshak, Bellanti, & Bierman, 1996); depression and anxiety (Duncan, 1999); and continued self-blame, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, interpersonal relationship problems, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Wiehe, 1997). Sibling violence has also been associated with the occurrence of peer bullying (Ensor, Marks, Jacobs, & Hughes, 2010; Finkelhor, Tumer, & Ormrod, 2006), suggesting that this form of family violence may have indirect implications for the health of others outside the family. However, these findings seem to have had limited inclusion in intervention programs serving children and families.

This article seeks to draw attention to this often overlooked family dynamic and to recommend ways to integrate this content into parenting intervention programs. Following a brief overview of some of the factors often associated with psychological and physical abuse, findings from interviews with five practitioners who conduct parenting intervention groups are summarized. Recommendations are provided for how practitioners could bring greater attention to sibling violence in their parent intervention programs.

OVERVIEW OF THE PROBLEM

Mental health has been described as "indispensable to personal well-being, family and interpersonal relationships, and contribution to community or society" (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999, p. 4). Physical abuse is associated with such psychiatric disorders as PTSD, conduct disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (Famularo, Kinscherff, & Fenton, 1992), depression (Kolko, 2002), aggression and anxiety (Azar & Wolfe, 1998), and impaired social functioning with peers (Salzinger, Feldman, Hammer, & Rosario, 1993). Psychological maltreatment, which includes verbal abuse and threats, is associated with depression, conduct disorder, and delinquency (Kazdin, Moser, Colbus, & Bell, 1985) and can impair social and cognitive functioning in children (Smetana & Kelly, 1989). Research has also linked parental verbal aggression and children's psychosocial problems (Moore & Pepler, 2006), even when no physical abuse is present. Children who are abused often lack resources to manage their own frustration, stress, and anger. This lack of self-control may result in their venting their anger on others. Longer term effects include the potential for children who have been abused to repeat the abuse and neglect in the future with their own children.

Child neglect has been associated with academic problems, aggression, and low self-esteem (Erickson & Egeland, 2002) as well as anxious and inattentive behaviors at school (Corcoran, 2000). The fact that child well-being improves when parental maltreatment is reduced speaks to both the importance of resilience and the need for family intervention (Christoffersen & DePanfillis, 2009). Parent intervention programs are one way to decrease or eliminate child maltreatment and enhance parenting skills to improve family health and functioning.

Parenting Intervention Programs

Parent education is commonly used in child welfare (Barth et al. …