Child maltreatment has a substantial toll on individuals in the short- and long-term. Critically, there is evidence that this burden is likely to pass from parent to child via higher risk for offspring maltreatment among parents who have been maltreated in childhood themselves. Yet, understanding of the mediators of the intergenerational transmission of maltreatment is still lacking. This study examined both parental depression and parental adversities in adulthood (e.g., financial difficulties, death of parent or child, serious illness) as competing mediators in the association between parent and offspring experiences of child maltreatment. Additionally, we tested whether these mediational pathways differ for biological parent perpetrators versus other perpetrators.
Data came from Time 3 and 4 of a longitudinal study examining the effects of maltreatment on adolescent development. The analytic sample consisted of 208 biological parent/adolescent offspring dyads. Path modeling was used to test the mediation effects of parental adulthood adversities and parental depression for intergenerational maltreatment. Multiple-group models were conducted with biological parent perpetrator versus other/unknown perpetrator groups.
The path from parent to offspring experience of maltreatment was partially mediated by parental adversities, but not by parental depressive symptoms. This mediation effect was only significant for the biological perpetrators group.
Overall, these findings indicate that the role of parental mental health for the risk of intergenerational maltreatment should be considered in the context of other life stressors. Attention should be paid to the parent’s adulthood experiences and stressors in order to break the intergenerational cycle of maltreatment.