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Child maltreatment in the family

The experience of a national sample of young people

Front cover of Child maltreatment in the familyBy Pat Cawson (February 2002)

The second report on the NSPCC Survey of Childhood and Children's Experience gives a detailed picture of maltreatment by parents and sets this in the context of aspects of family life and relationships.

The survey interviewed a national random probability sample of 2,869 young people aged 18-24 years about their childhood experience, using Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI). The first report, Child Maltreatment in the United Kingdom, published in November 2000, gave figures for the prevalence of child abuse and neglect. Child maltreatment in the family explores in greater detail the nature of maltreatment for which parents were responsible, including physical and sexual abuse, absence of physical care and supervision, and emotional maltreatment.

Family circumstances, family relationships and child maltreatment

Child maltreatment has long been found in association with a pattern of social disadvantage, social exclusion, family breakdown, problems in family relationships and characteristics of family members. Child maltreatment in the family reviews the debate over the causes of maltreatment in the family in the light of the findings of the NSPCC Survey of Childhood and Children's Experience and considers the family ecosystem associated with maltreatment. It shows the strong links between forms of maltreatment and the extent to which some children experience multiple maltreatment.

Emotional maltreatment and domestic violence emerge as key features characterising many maltreating families, and the idea that families 'low on warmth and high on criticism' carry particular risks for children is examined.

Results also show the value that young people placed on their family relationships, even when they experienced maltreatment from parents, and the report emphasises the importance of the emotional support they experienced during childhood from the extended family, from friends and from professionals.

The report discusses the links between maltreatment in the family and bullying by other children at school and elsewhere, examines the young peoples' own explanations for the maltreatment they received and describes the effects on their wellbeing. There are many challenges to conventional assumptions about maltreatment in the family and its effects, and questions are raised concerning the accessibility and effectiveness of professional help for children experiencing maltreatment at home.


Introduction: understanding the causes of child maltreatment; the ecological approach to child maltreatment; the survey of Childhood and Children's Experience; measures of maltreatment.

Family structure and social context: family structure and social disadvantage; family structure in childhood and maltreatment; stepfamilies and lone parent families; socio-economic status, parents' education and employment; poverty and money worries; demographic factors and maltreatment.

Family relationships and family functioning: affection and happiness; relationship with parents and fear of parents; discipline; family problems, stress and maltreatment; families 'low on warmth and high on criticism'; health and disability; domestic violence; substance abuse; respondent's explanations for maltreatment.

Multi-type maltreatment by parents: international evidence on the existence and prevalence of multi-type maltreatment; overlap between forms of serious maltreatment in the family; importance of emotional maltreatment as an indicator of multi-type maltreatment; physical abuse, physical neglect and emotional maltreatment; multiple maltreatment of neglected and sexually abused children.

The consequences of maltreatment: leaving home and early parenthood; educational achievement; childhood problems, unhappiness and bullying; seeking help; perceived effects of maltreatment; present wellbeing; support and resilience.

Conclusions: the family ecosystem, structure, relationships and maltreatment; the violent family; love, fear and maltreatment; destructive syndromes; finding solutions; recommendations

Full report:

Cawson, P. (2002) Child maltreatment in the family: the experience of a national sample of young people. London: NSPCC.
ISBN: 1842280139

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