Certain life situations, such as single parenting, domestic violence, and other stressful events, can contribute to the likelihood of maltreatment, particularly when parents are isolated socially or lack sufficient emotional or financial support. Stress resulting from job changes, loss of income, health problems, or other aspects of the family environment can increase the level of conflict in the home and affect the ability of parents to cope or find support.
Protective factors that can help promote healthy families include positive relationships within the family, supportive relationships with peers, the ability to communicate effectively, strong parent-child relationships, and more.
The following resources address conditions and experiences within a home, such as family structure, parental attitudes, and child-rearing approaches, that can place children at risk for maltreatment.
Child Abuse Injuries More Likely to Be Severe if Caregiver Is Male and Unrelated to Child
Children's National Hospital (2017)
Describes how injuries to children are more likely to be severe when carried out by a parent's male partner or other male caregiver.
Child Maltreatment in Military Families: A Fact Sheet for Providers (PDF - 770 KB)
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (2015)
Provides information for providers on child maltreatment in military families, including discussions on stressors, awareness of the problem, how deployment affects the family, and what can be done to combat this issue.
Child Sexual Abuse Statistics: Risk Factors (PDF - 273 KB)
Darkness to Light (2015)
Reviews risk factors, including family characteristics, that may place a child at higher risk for sexual abuse. Family structure is an important risk factor, with children living with two married biological parents at a lower risk. Children living without either parent are more likely to be abused.
The Evidence Base: Child Maltreatment Risk Factors
University of Texas at Austin, Child and Family Research Partnership (2019)
Describes risk factors for child maltreatment, including family structure, social isolation, resource deprivation, and low income and poverty.
Examination of the Extent to Which Employment Factors Are Associated With Reduced Child Maltreatment Potential and Drug Use (PDF - 331 KB)
Donohue, Plant, Barchard, & Gillis (2017)
Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(1)
Examines associations between child maltreatment risk and the number of hours mothers are employed along with their happiness with employment. Findings showed that risk for child maltreatment can be reduced by helping women achieve gainful employment that is personally satisfying.
Family Characteristics Associated With Child Maltreatment Across the Deployment Cycle of U.S. Army Soldiers
Strane, Lynch, Griffis, Taylor, Harb, Mi, Song, et al. (2017)
Military Medicine, 182(9–10)
Examines the risk of child maltreatment for families after a soldier's return from deployment and looks at child- and family-level risk factors.
Household Composition and Maltreatment Allegations in the US: Deconstructing the At-Risk Single Mother Family
Zerr, Newton, Litrownik, McCabe, & Yeh (2019)
Child Abuse & Neglect, 97
Examines rates of child maltreatment allegations in single-mother households to show that the presence of nonrelated males in the home demonstrated an increased risk, while having grandparents or other relatives in the house lessens risk.
How Can Understanding Risk and Protective Factors Predict Chronic Neglect for CPS-Involved Families?
Casey Family Programs (2020)
Examines the use of risk assessment tools to predict chronic neglect and shows that parent cognitive impairment, history of substitute care, and mental health problems, as well as a higher number of allegations in a report, are the strongest predictors. Having younger parents, being in a family with higher numbers of children, and being in a family with a child under age 1 were also predictors of neglect.
Identifiable Risk Factors of Child Maltreatment
St. Cloud State University, Department of Child and Family Studies
Explores risk factors for child maltreatment, including parenting style, family history, and age of parents. Adolescent parents, specifically adolescent mothers, have a higher risk of experiencing challenges parenting, which increases the risk of child maltreatment.
Risk Factors for Fatal and Non-fatal Child Maltreatment in Families Previously Investigated by CPS: A Case-control Study
Miyamoto & Romano & Putnam-Hornstein & Thurston & Dharmar & Joseph (2017)
Child Abuse and Neglect, 63
Studies risk factors for child maltreatment and shows that greater numbers of children under the age of 5 within a home were associated with increased risk of serious child maltreatment.
Selected Library Resources: Family Risk Factors for Child Maltreatment
Presents research articles from prior to 2016 related to family risk factors for child abuse and neglect and that have contributed to the literature on the social ecological framework for conceptualizing risk factors for child maltreatment.
Understanding What Makes Kids Vulnerable to Being Sexually Abused
Stop It Now!
Explores risk factors that may make some children especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. These include factors in the household, such as settings where secrecy is encouraged, stress in the family, exposure to pornography, witnessing prostitution, alcohol abuse, and more.
What Is the Link Between Corporal Punishment and Child Physical Abuse?
Fréchette, Zoratti, & Romano (2015)
Journal of Family Violence, 30(2)
Examines the link between spanking and child physical abuse. The study looks at various parenting and family factors that could distinguish between spanking that is not abuse and spanking that is considered physically abusive.