Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Children of Battered Women: Developmental Delays and Behavioral Dysfunction

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Children of Battered Women: Developmental Delays and Behavioral Dysfunction

Article excerpt

The extent of developmental delays and behavioral dysfunction in 47 children living in a Florida battered women's shelter was determined by the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales and the Connors Parent and Teacher Rating Scales. The extent of developmental delays and behavioral dysfunction in these child witnesses to family violence was then compared to the prevalence of such delays and dysfunction in normative comparison children. The children of the battered mothers were found to have significantly greater developmental delays and behavioral dysfunction than found in the comparison normative children. There were no differences between sexes or age groups.

Although scientific interest in problems of domestic violence is now several decades old, much of the research effort has been focused on the battered woman and the battering man. Until recently the issue of child witnesses to domestic violence has occupied relatively little attention from the domestic violence research community (Jaffe, Wolfe, & Wilson, 1990). One of the earliest students of the child witnesses issue was Levine (1975) who wrote about the fear, hatred and despair found in such children and their frequent aggression and truancy. Levine attributed these changes in the child to an atmosphere of chronic crisis in the home and a lack of effective social support systems.

Jaffe et al. (1990) explored major texts in child development prior to 1960 and found no mention of interparental violence as a developmental factor. Most of the later studies found by Jaffe et al. report withdrawal, dependence, sleep distress, limited frustration tolerance, poor impulse control, anger, depression, poor academic adjustment, and delinquent behavior in children living in violent families. Jaffe and his group note the absence of "pro-social" behavior in violent homes, reporting that battered mothers often fail to discipline their children. A study by Westra & Martin (1981) also reports developmental delays in children from violent families.

There are many references in the family violence literature to the poor competencies found in the child witness to violence (Davis & Carlson, 1987; deLange, 1986; Hughes & Hampton, 1984; Rosenberg, 1984). In particular, failure of these children in school was noted by Jaffe et al. (1990), Hughes (1986) and Wolfe, Jaffe, Wilson, & Zak (1985).

McLeod (1987) reported that 70% of battered women coming to shelters brought their children with them, and noted that staffs at the shelters have frequently observed maladaptive behavior in these children. Emery & O'Leary (1982) and Hughes (1986, 1988) describe acting-out behavior or severe withdrawal in shelter children whom they studied. Still other researchers mentioned physical problems in children of battered women (Layzer, Goodson, & deLange, 1985; McKay, 1987).

A large number of observers of child witnesses to family violence have described different behaviors in boys and girls from violent families, most often describing boys as aggressive and girls as passive (Fantuzzo & Lindquist, 1989; Hershorn & Rosenbaum, 1985; McKay, 1987; Sopp-Gilson, 1980). Thus Jaffe et al. (1990) reported that boys from violent families learn that violence is acceptable behavior in relationships and girls learn about victimization and distrust of men. Jouriles, Barling, & O'Leary (1987) and Hughes (1986), however, found no gender differences in children from violent families, and Hughes concluded that the literature seems split on this issue. Carlson (1984) observed that the nature of evidence on gender differences between boys and girls in violent families is largely anecdotal in nature. There has been speculation that battered mothers may be biased against their male children, seeing a higher level of pathology in them than is actually the case.

Some researchers have linked conduct and internalizing problems to the age of the child in the violent family, and Kurdek (1981) claimed that younger children are more disturbed because of their greater dependency. …

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