Psychological Reports, 1990, 66, 458.
O Psychological Reports 1990
FAMILY ENVIRONMENT FACTORS ASSOCIATED
WITH CHILD ABUSE ' BLAIR JUSTICE AND ANITA CALVERT
University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston Stress is consistently implicated in the etiology of child abuse. However, stress alone does not explain abuse, because many parents experiencing stress do not respond by abusing their children. Straus (4) and Justice (I), for example, have identified various psychosocial variables that mediate the response of abuse to stress. A family systems approach to child abuse contends that abuse is a function of the transactions between the parent and the child and the family social environment in which all play a role in the etiology of the abuse. Perceived family-environment factors include cohesion, expressiveness, confict, independence, achievement orientation, organization, and control. Twenty-three abusing couples were compared with a matched group of 23 nonabusing couples on stress levels, as measured by the Recent Life Changes Questionnaire (3) and by family environment factors (cohesion, expressiveness, conflict, independence, achievement orientation, organization, and control) from the Family Environment Scale (2). There was a statistically significant difference ( p = .02) in mean stress perceived by abusing and nonabusing families. Abusers reported more stress than nonabusen. Lower scores on cohesion and independence mediated the response of abuse to stress. Abusing families reported significantly less cohesion than nonabusing families ( p = ,003). They also reported significantly less independence of its members from one another than nonabusing families ( p = .01). The low cohesion observed in the abusive families and its significant interaction with stress suggests the desirability of teaching children relationship sML and group process. Also, for children and adolescents, to teach coping skills and, specifically, how to handle conflict in interpersonal relationships may be helpful. The diminished independence observed in these abusing families and its interaction with stress may indicate that specific, and particularly early, assertion skills should be taught to enable individuals to seek direct, overt, and healthy ways of meeting their needs rather than through fusion and over-dependency. REFERENCES , (1983) Family violence. Texas Medicine, 79, 43-47. 1. J u s n c ~ B. 2. Moos, R., & Moos, B. (1981) Family Enuironment Scale manual. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press. 3. RAHE,R. (1975) Epidemiological studies of life change and illness. lnternationaf Journaf of Psychiatry and Medicine, 6, 133-147. 4. STRAUS,M. (1980) Stress and child abuse. In C. Kempe & R. Helfer (Eds.), The battered chifd. (3rd ed.) Chicago, IL: Univer. of Chicago Press.
Accepted February 21, 1990.
'Request reprints from Blair Justice, Ph.D., Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Texas, Health Sciences Center at Houston, PO Box 20186, Houston, TX 77225.