Study Shows Child Abuse Rate Affected by Family Structure

Australian research shows that children under five living with a non-biological or step-parent are up to 77 times more likely to die from a violence-related injury than those living with their biological families.

A review by Deakin University of more than 1000 coroners’ cases between 2000 and 2003 found that stepchildren are at dramatically raised risk of being victims of fatal accidents, as well as physical abuse and homicide.

Children living with single mothers were no more likely to die from either violent or unintentional causes than those in biological families. But children living with neither biological parent, such as foster children and state wards, faced up to a 102 times greater risk of death.

Study author and psychologist Greg Tooley said the study appeared to back up theories that parents were biologically driven to be extremely protective of their offspring, less so than step-parents – also known as the ‘Cinderella Effect’.

He also said that despite sensitivities over the issue, the findings should not be ignored and child-welfare agencies needed to take it into account when assessing at-risk cases.

“This research is very relevant to the NZ setting as we seek to tackle our unacceptable rate of child abuse,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ. “It doesn’t mean that every step-parent is a child abuser but it does highlight potential risk factors.”

“The misguided solution to child abuse was banning smacking, but this research reiterates what UNICEF, CYF and other international research has highlighted – that the likelihood of a child being injured or killed is associated with drug and alcohol abuse and family breakdown and structure.”

Family First NZ has a 5-point strategy to deal with the real causes of child abuse. www.stoptheabuse.org.nz
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