Rising rates of conflict hurting kids

New research shows more than one-in-three families are affected by regular inter-parental conflict and children are bearing the brunt.

The findings taken from the Longitudinal Study of Children, focussed on children aged 0-11 across a six year period.

Lead author, La Trobe University Research Fellow Dr Elizabeth Westrupp says that while there are hard statistics on rates of domestic violence, very little information is available about less severe family conflict, such as verbal abuse and its effects on children.

'This research is the first, most comprehensive look at persistent inter-parental conflict in Australian families with young children. And the news isn't good.

'We found that more than 1 in 3 children are affected by ongoing verbal and physical conflict between their parents. Over a six year period this equates to nearly two million children affected. The consequences of this are worrying. Rates of low level but persistent/repetitive conflict are likely to at the very least cause a child stress and anxiety. Previous research shows these children are at increased risk of developing mental health and physical problems down the track.'

Dr Westrupp says that conflict between parents is associated with higher parental psychological distress, so even children not directly witnessing inter-parental conflict may be affected through changes in their parents' mental health and parenting practices.

The research pinpointed some strong predictors for persistently high inter-parental conflict in the home:

  • Maternal psychological distress
  • Low paternal education
  • Language other than English spoken in the home
  • Aboriginal and Torres Islander background
  • Being a young mother
  • Low socio-economic position

Researchers hope the findings will help family and child support services allocate finite resources and develop targeted interventions to at risk families.

'If the community as a whole can better support parents with young children, this will help reduce conflict in the home, improve family functioning, and child development outcomes in the long-term,' Dr Westrupp said.

Click here for the Herald Sun's coverage of this story.

Image credit: Children, by Astrid Westvang

Media Contact; Catherine Garrett 9479 6565

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