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Gordon Harold, PhD School of Psychology Cardiff University How Witnessing Inter-Parental Conflict and Violence affects Children.

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Presentation on theme: "Gordon Harold, PhD School of Psychology Cardiff University How Witnessing Inter-Parental Conflict and Violence affects Children."— Presentation transcript:

1 Gordon Harold, PhD School of Psychology Cardiff University How Witnessing Inter-Parental Conflict and Violence affects Children

2 Overview  The impact of domestic violence on children Capturing the extent of the problem Capturing the extent of the problem  What research says about the effects of Inter-parental conflict children A brief review of research A brief review of research Evidence from a British Study Evidence from a British Study  Practice and policy applications of research Home Office, Welsh Assembly Government, CAFCASS CYMRU Home Office, Welsh Assembly Government, CAFCASS CYMRU  Summary and conclusions Bottom-line Bottom-line

3 Children and Domestic Violence  Defining the problem (exposure to DV) Worldwide: 275 million children Worldwide: 275 million children UK: 240, 000 to 963, 000 (Behind Closed Doors Report) UK: 240, 000 to 963, 000 (Behind Closed Doors Report)  Implications for children exposed to DV 40% of children show clinically significant emotional and behavioural problems, compared to 10% of children who live in homes not characterised as DV 40% of children show clinically significant emotional and behavioural problems, compared to 10% of children who live in homes not characterised as DV  Shifting the focus from ‘victim’ to ‘witness’ Adoption and Children Act (2002; 2006) Adoption and Children Act (2002; 2006) Witnessing DV as child protection concern Witnessing DV as child protection concern  How does witnessing inter-parental conflict affect children? A review of the evidence A review of the evidence

4 How Children are Affected by Families  Internalising Depression, anxiety, withdrawal Depression, anxiety, withdrawal  Externalising Aggression, hostility, delinquency Aggression, hostility, delinquency  Academic Achievement Classroom behaviour; academic performance Classroom behaviour; academic performance  Social Competence Relations with peers, other adults (teachers) Relations with peers, other adults (teachers)  Physical Health Smoking, drinking, eating problems Smoking, drinking, eating problems

5 What Family Factors Affect Children  Family type and transition Single vs., two-parent family Single vs., two-parent family Separation, divorce, remarriageSeparation, divorce, remarriage  Parent psychological health Depression, anti-social behaviour Depression, anti-social behaviour  Family economic stress Economic pressure, SES, work pressure/stress, income loss Economic pressure, SES, work pressure/stress, income loss  Parent-child relations Parenting style, communication, Parenting style, communication, parent-child conflict  Inter-parental conflict Dissatisfaction, conflict/discord, hostility, violence Dissatisfaction, conflict/discord, hostility, violence

6 Inter-Parental Conflict and Children’s Psychological Development  Children of all ages are affected by exposure to conflict between parents 6 months to 16 years 6 months to 16 years Physiological arousal, anxiety, depression, aggression, hostility, IQ deficits, low academic attainment, poor peer relations, AB problemsPhysiological arousal, anxiety, depression, aggression, hostility, IQ deficits, low academic attainment, poor peer relations, AB problems Conflict across the continuum Conflict across the continuum Low warmth – High hostilityLow warmth – High hostility  Direct versus Indirect effects of conflict between adults on children Adult Conflict Child Problems Adult Conflict Child Problems Adult ConflictParenting Child Problems Adult ConflictParenting Child Problems  Passive victim or direct witness? What are the effects of witnessing inter-parental conflict on children? What are the effects of witnessing inter-parental conflict on children?

7 Effects of Witnessing Conflict on Children  Brain development (0-4 years) Biological abnormalities (HPA axis); Antisocial Behaviour Problems  Emotional development (0-4 years) Anger, fear, shame, guilt, worry  Cognitive development (5-10 years) Attributions of self and others, expectations of conflict  Social and Behavioural (5-16 years) development Aggressiveness, interpretation of intent, expectations of others, peer/romantic relations Aggressiveness, interpretation of intent, expectations of others, peer/romantic relations

8 How Inter-Parental Conflict Affects Children  A cognitive-contextual perspective (Grych & Fincham, 1990) The attributions children assign to parents ’ marital arguments explains differences in their responses The attributions children assign to parents ’ marital arguments explains differences in their responses  Emotional Security (Davies & Cummings, 1994) Children ’ s attachment processes are disrupted by high levels of acrimonious inter-parental conflict Children ’ s attachment processes are disrupted by high levels of acrimonious inter-parental conflict  Family Representations (Harold & Conger, 1997) Inter-parental conflict serves as a primer for children’s perceptions of family relationships (e.g. parent-child relationships) as well as their attributions of ‘self’ and others Inter-parental conflict serves as a primer for children’s perceptions of family relationships (e.g. parent-child relationships) as well as their attributions of ‘self’ and others

9 Research Synopsis  Primary findings Frequent, intense, poorly resolved and child related inter- parental conflict linked to heightened internalising symptoms, externalising problems and low academic attainment Frequent, intense, poorly resolved and child related inter- parental conflict linked to heightened internalising symptoms, externalising problems and low academic attainment Different mechanisms for boys, girls, mothers and fathers Different mechanisms for boys, girls, mothers and fathers Child genderChild gender ThreatExternalising > boys ThreatExternalising > boys Self-blameInternalising > girls Self-blameInternalising > girls Parent genderParent gender Mothers > hostility to boys (agentic orientation) Mothers > hostility to boys (agentic orientation) Fathers > withdrawal from daughters (relationship orientation) Fathers > withdrawal from daughters (relationship orientation)  Historical focus on emotional and behavioural outcomes for children Internalising symptoms; Externalising problems Internalising symptoms; Externalising problems  Role of child behaviour as factor in disrupted family system? Direction of effects? Direction of effects? Longitudinal evidence Longitudinal evidence Disrupted family relationships > effect on disrupted child behaviour than the converseDisrupted family relationships > effect on disrupted child behaviour than the converse

10 Family – School Interface  Time to move beyond global assessment of psychological impacts to impacts in other social domains Implications for long-term development and well being Implications for long-term development and well being  What children learn at home affects what children can learn outside the home (Welsh Schoolteacher) Outcome becomes influence? Outcome becomes influence? Depression/anxietyaggression/hostilityDepression/anxietyaggression/hostility Aggression/Hostility Low Academic AttainmentAggression/Hostility Low Academic Attainment  Importance of academic attainment Academic success = Adult well being Academic success = Adult well being Little is known about family factors that influence variation in children ’ s academic attainment Little is known about family factors that influence variation in children ’ s academic attainment

11 Some Evidence - SWFS ( ) Sample  542 children, parents and teachers (78% = two-parent; 9% = stepparent; 11% + 2% = single-parent)  Three year panel study 1999, 2000, 2001 ( GCSE) Sample retention: Parent = 71% (N = 387); Child and Teacher = 90% (N = 488) Sample retention: Parent = 71% (N = 387); Child and Teacher = 90% (N = 488) Representative of families living in England and Wales - family composition, ethnic representation, economic diversity (Social Trends, 2000).Method  Interview Family communication, problem solving, family relations etc., Family communication, problem solving, family relations etc.,  Questionnaire Parents: Couple relationship, parent-child relationship, symptoms of depression and anxiety, family economic conditions, styles of family interaction, parenting style, children’s emotional and behavioural well- being Parents: Couple relationship, parent-child relationship, symptoms of depression and anxiety, family economic conditions, styles of family interaction, parenting style, children’s emotional and behavioural well- being Children: Parent relationship, parent-child relationship, family economic conditions, styles of family interaction, emotional and behavioural well-being, family and school support, substance use, Children: Parent relationship, parent-child relationship, family economic conditions, styles of family interaction, emotional and behavioural well-being, family and school support, substance use, Teachers: Child emotional and behavioural well being, academic performance Teachers: Child emotional and behavioural well being, academic performance

12 Inter-Parental Conflict and Children’s Academic Attainment: A Longitudinal Analysis Harold, G.T., Aitken, J., Shelton, K.H. (2007). Inter-parental conflict and children’s academic attainment: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

13 Age 11 years Harsh / Rejecting Parenting Perceptions of Self-Blame and Responsibility Age 12 yearsAge 13 years Interparental Conflict Aggressive Problems Parent Child Low Academic Attainment English Science Math R 2 =.48 R 2 =.17 R 2 =.29 R 2 =.20.20*.28* *.03.48** **.02 Aggressive Problems.18*.67**.22*.04 N=230 Χ 2 17 =33.18 AGFI=.92

14 Age 11 years Interparental Conflict Harsh / Rejecting Parenting Appraisals of Self-Blame and Responsibility Low Academic Achievement (Key Stage 3) Child Behaviour Problems Age 12 yearsAge 13 years

15 Implications  Inter-parental conflict and child development Internalising symptoms, externalising problems, academic attainment Internalising symptoms, externalising problems, academic attainment  Highlighting mechanisms Negative parenting versus child perceptions of inter- parental relationship Negative parenting versus child perceptions of inter- parental relationship External versus internal processes External versus internal processes Importance of the child’s perspective Importance of the child’s perspective  Implications for intervention Focus on parenting in the context of inter-parental conflict?? Focus on parenting in the context of inter-parental conflict?? Attributions engendered in children who witness high levels of inter-parental conflict and violence Attributions engendered in children who witness high levels of inter-parental conflict and violence Context specific assessment of ‘risk’ and ‘risk mechanism’ in development of intervention programmes Context specific assessment of ‘risk’ and ‘risk mechanism’ in development of intervention programmes

16 Context of Policy Applications  Legislative Developments Adoption and Children Act (2002); Children and Adoption Act (2006) Adoption and Children Act (2002); Children and Adoption Act (2006) Definition of significant harm emanating from exposure to domestic violence has been extended to include ‘impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another’ Definition of significant harm emanating from exposure to domestic violence has been extended to include ‘impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another’  Practice and policy applications of research relating to the effects of inter-parental conflict on children Domestic violence Domestic violence Parental separation and divorce Parental separation and divorce Intervention and psycho-educational programme development Intervention and psycho-educational programme development

17 Domestic Violence Home Office Domestic Violence Policy Unit  National Domestic Violence Delivery Plan (2007)  Similar psychological effects on children as being a direct victim of violence (Harold, ESRC )  Developing interventions that address mechanisms through which witnessing inter-parental conflict and violence affects children

18 Assessing ‘Psychological’ Risk Welsh Assembly Government (CAFCASS, CYMRU)  Risk-assessment ‘Toolkit’ for children who witness inter-parental conflict and violence Comprehensive research review Comprehensive research review Practitioner friendly summary Practitioner friendly summary Evidence-based risk assessment ‘Toolkit’ Evidence-based risk assessment ‘Toolkit’

19 Parenting and Family Support  Review of intervention programmes based on research Assessing the efficacy of parenting programmes Assessing the efficacy of parenting programmes School transitionSchool transition Inter-parental conflict and violenceInter-parental conflict and violence Foster care provisionFoster care provision Implications for working with children who witness high levels of inter-parental conflict and violence Implications for working with children who witness high levels of inter-parental conflict and violence Expansion of parent psycho-educational programme (South Wales Family Study) Expansion of parent psycho-educational programme (South Wales Family Study)

20 Summary of Research  Children are affected by conflict across the spectrum Depression, aggression, anxiety, hostility, low self-esteem, low social competence (peers, teachers), delinquency, low academic attainment Depression, aggression, anxiety, hostility, low self-esteem, low social competence (peers, teachers), delinquency, low academic attainment Low warmthHigh hostility Low warmthHigh hostility  Not ‘if’ conflict occurs, but ‘how’ conflict is expressed and managed by adults Importance of the child’s active interpretation of parents’ management of conflict Importance of the child’s active interpretation of parents’ management of conflict Constructive vs., destructive ‘conflict’ Constructive vs., destructive ‘conflict’  Importance of the child’s perspective Active agents rather than ‘invisible’ victims Active agents rather than ‘invisible’ victims Children’s mental representation of conflict between adults (causes, implications, consequences) explain variation in their adaptation/adjustment (why some do well, while others don’t) Children’s mental representation of conflict between adults (causes, implications, consequences) explain variation in their adaptation/adjustment (why some do well, while others don’t)  The importance of translation Putting research into practice Putting research into practice A challenge of language and timeA challenge of language and time CAFCASS CYMRU – Fitting science to practiceCAFCASS CYMRU – Fitting science to practice

21 Contact Details: Gordon Harold, Ph.D. School of Psychology Cardiff University Tower Building Park Place Cardiff CF10 3AT. Phone: , Note: Research reviewed as part of this presentation was supported by grants awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council and The British Academy.


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