OBJECTIVE: The author reviews current wisdom concerning the rates and
mechanisms of intrafamilial components of intergenerational transmission of
child abuse and illustrates the unreliability of basic data and of
assumptions made by reviewers and partisan advocates, most of whom
underestimate the importance of intrafamilial factors in child abuse.
METHOD: The information in the report was derived from original research
plus a recently prepared compilation of 60 studies, mainly from the United
States and the United Kingdom. RESULTS: The crude rates of
intergenerational transmission of child abuse according to the studies
reviewed are as follows: one-third of child victims grow up to continue a
pattern of seriously inept, neglectful, or abusive rearing as parents.
One-third do not. The other one-third remain vulnerable to the effects of
social stress on the likelihood of their becoming abusive parents.
Intrafamilial factors appear to be the cause of personally directed, as
opposed to culturally condoned, child abuse. Broad social factors, and some
medical and psychiatric conditions, lower or raise thresholds in which
family and personal vulnerabilities and propensities operate. CONCLUSIONS:
There is no justification for any extremist advocacy in apportioning
responsibility between the "sins of the parents" and the failings of
society. The contention that clinical research on abuse is inferior to, and
must give way to, large- scale or statistically balanced self-report and
questionnaire surveys is plausible, popular, convincing, and wrong.