Childhood abuse affects later parenting outcomes for American Indian tribes

Date Published: 

Libby, A., Orton, H., Beals, J., Buchwald, D. & Manson, S. (2007). Childhood abuse and later parenting outcomes in two American Indian tribes. Child Abuse and Neglect, 32, 195-211.

Reviewed by: 
Elizabeth Fast

Although earlier studies have explored the association between childhood abuse and later parenting outcomes, few have done so specifically with American Indian tribes. This study aimed to assess the relationship between childhood adversities and later parenting outcomes in two American Indian tribes, while specifically examining the roles of adult depression and substance use disorders. A subsample of parents (n = 1,049 in a Southwest tribe and n = 1,172 in a Northern Plains tribe) from a large community study- the American Indian Service Utilization and Psychiatric Epidemiology Risk & Protective Factors Project (AI-SUPERPFP) - were surveyed. Childhood adversities were measured using (a) the trauma section of the AI-SUPERPFP, which asked about 16 childhood traumas, (b) the family of origin section, which asked about violent behavior of caregivers, and (c) the lifetime disorders section, which assessed lifetime substance disorders and other psychiatric disorders. Social support indices, demographic variables, and parenting outcomes were also assessed. Having been physically abused in childhood significantly decreased later life parenting satisfaction for both tribes, whereas having been sexually abused in childhood decreased later life parenting satisfaction only in the southwest tribe. Having a father with a violence problem and a lack of social support also significantly decreased later life parenting satisfaction. A history of childhood physical abuse decreased later life parenting satisfaction for both tribes when the impact of substance abuse disorders was not considered. The findings suggest that intervention targets should include concrete social support, attention to both mothers and fathers in parenting roles, and substance use disorders.

Methodological notes: 

The study included potentially important covariates such as age, education, number of children, current depressive symptoms, experiences of child physical abuse neglect, and negative family relationships. Furthermore, standardized diagnostic interviews that allowed the inclusion of disorder-specific variables in multivariate models of parenting outcomes were also included in the study. The limitations of the study included (a) the fact that neither child abuse nor parenting outcomes were the focus of the larger study, (b) standardized measures were not used for maltreatment, and (c) parenting outcomes were first person accounts that were not co-measured with more objective criteria. The last point in particular is a major limitation of this study as parenting satisfaction is not a measure that has been validated and was created only for use in this study alone.