Transmitting trauma: a systematic review of the risk of child abuse perpetrated by parents exposed to traumatic events.


DIGNITY - Danish Institute Against Torture, Copenhagen, Denmark. [Email]


OBJECTIVE : To review the empirical evidence of a potential association between parental trauma and parental child abuse.
METHODS : Following PRISMA guidelines, 4645 publications were identified through a systematic search in PubMed, PsycINFO and Cochrane. The final number of publications included was 15.
RESULTS : The prevalence of child abuse was found to be consistently higher in populations exposed to traumatic events (prevalence range 36.0-97.5%) compared with non-exposed groups. Parents exposed to trauma were more likely to abuse their children in all studies, and trauma severity, including a PTSD diagnosis in parents, was associated with perpetration of child abuse in most studies. Such associations appeared to be independent of the type of traumatic event. The findings underscore that trauma does not only affect the individual, but also the family.
CONCLUSIONS : Parental trauma seems to be associated with perpetration of child abuse within the family. Abusive behavior against children could be a potential trauma reaction, which should be considered in preventive strategies aimed at reducing harm in traumatized families.


Child abuse,Family violence,Intergenerational transmission,PTSD,Trauma,

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