Despite the expanding research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and corpus of studies on intergenerational maltreatment in high-risk families, studies have not examined intergenerational ACEs more broadly, much less in severely disadvantaged families.
This study investigated the intergenerational continuity of ACEs in mothers and young children aged 4 to 6 years living in emergency homeless shelters. It also examined whether unpacking ACEs into categories of exposure to maltreatment versus family dysfunction affected intergenerational continuity patterns or child socioemotional problems in school.
Negative parenting, in the form of observed inept coercive discipline with children, and cumulative sociodemographic risk were examined as additional predictors of child ACEs and socioemotional problems.
Mothers (N = 95; aged 20-45; 64.2% African American, 3.2% African Native, 11.6% Caucasian, 7.4% biracial/multiracial, and 13.6% other) completed questionnaires on parent and child ACEs and cumulative risk factors. They participated in videotaped parent-child interactions rated for observed coercive discipline, and teachers provided reports of children's socioemotional problems.
Results indicated that higher parental ACEs predicted higher child ACEs, with higher numbers of parental ACEs in either category (maltreatment or family dysfunction) predicting higher levels of child ACEs in both categories. However, child exposure to maltreatment, but not family dysfunction, significantly predicted elevations in children's socioemotional problems.
Findings underscore the role of intergenerational childhood adversity in homeless families and also emphasize that unpacking ACEs in children may illuminate key areas of vulnerability for school adjustment.
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