Family Issues:
Marital Conflict, Divorce,
Abuse, Neglect
Family Systems Model

Primary Assumptions
 Reciprocal:
individuals shape their
environment as well as are shaped
by their environments
 Dynamic: constant interactions
among individual and their
environments
 Hierarchical structure: defined by
boundaries and subsystems
Bronfenbrenner’s
Ecological Model
Exosystem
Macrosystem
Microsystem
Mesosystem
Bronfenbrenner’s
Ecological Model


Microsystem: actual
settings in which the
individual experiences
day to day reality
Mesosystem:
relationships between
microsystems


Exosystem: situations that
have a bearing on child’s
development but in which
the child does not actually
play a direct role
Macrosystem: institutional
patterns and shared
assumptions of a particular
culture
Marital Conflict:
Types and Child Outcomes

Physical (Domestic Violence)
Most linked with externalizing problems in children
 Traumatic symptoms


Verbal Aggression


Withdrawal (Stonewalling)


Both externalizing and internalizing problems
Most linked with depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal
in children
Mutually respectful, emotionally regulated conflict
resolution

Well-adjusted children with social problem solving skills
Other Outcomes

Childhood
 Lower
academic achievement
 Poorer self-concept
 Poorer social competence

Adulthood
 Lower
SES
 Poorer self-concept
 Increased marital problems
 Greater likelihood of divorce
Direct and Indirect Effects


Direct
Repeated exposure to
conflict undermines
children’s capacity for
regulating their
emotional and
behavioral functioning


Indirect
Spillover hypothesis:
Impact on parenting
leading to changes in
emotional availability
(rejection, hostility) and
control (lax monitoring,
inconsistent or harsh
discipline)
Divorce: A Bad Thing?



Reading: Peris, Emery 2004
Prospective study of adolescents
in intact vs disrupted homes
Discussion
Divorce

Children’s post-divorce adjustment
affected by
 Magnitude
and nature of divorce
stressors
 Examples?
 Interpersonal
and intrapersonal
resources
 Interaction between divorce
stressors and resources
Divorce Models

Crisis
Acute stress with transition
 Gradual adjustment
 Protective factors/Stress buffers

Adults: education, employment, social
support
 Children: active coping skills, social
support, access to therapeutic intervention
 Parent-child

• Maternal Acceptance
• Consistency of Discipline
Divorce Models

Chronic Strain
Persistent long-term problems
 Risk factors


Disruptions in parent-child relationships
• Inept/neglectful parenting
Continuing discord among spouses
 Loss of emotional support
 Economic hardship
 Negative life events (moving, changing
schools)

Coping with Divorce

Components of Effective Treatments

Improve mother-child relationship quality
Praise,
 Reflective listening
 Positive activity scheduling


Improve effective discipline
Structure and consistency
 Logical consequences
 Decrease physical punishment

Co-parenting: Increase father’s access to
child
 Reduce interparental conflict

Co-parenting

People who separate but continue
to work cooperatively as parents
 Respectful
(no criticism)
 Resolve conflicts privately
 Discuss major issues together and
arrive at mutual understanding
before speaking with children
 Don’t make child “confidant”
 Don’t make child “messenger”
Co-parenting

Points to consider
Be clear that divorce is final and NOT
child’s fault
 Remember to problem-solve

Education
 Visitation schedule
 Finances
 Medical needs
 Discipline
 Holidays/special events


Not recommended for all families
Coping with Divorce

Components of Effective Treatments

Coping skills training
Emotion labeling and expression
 Positive cognitive reframing to reduce
negative thoughts about divorce stressors
 Effective communication “I” messages
 Interpersonal problem solving
 Identify ways to find social support

Child Abuse and
Neglect
Florida Statute - Chapter
415: Definitions

Sexual Abuse
 Any
penetration, no matter how
slight by penis or any object
 Any sexual contact of any genital
area by person’s genitals, mouth,
tongue, hand, etc.
 Intentional masturbation
 Sexual exploitation (engaging in
sexual acts or prostitution)
Florida Statute - Chapter
415: Definitions

Mental Injury/Emotional Abuse
 Injury
in intellectual or
psychological capacity as
evidenced by a discernable and
substantial impairment in person’s
ability to function within the normal
range of performance

Physical Harm
 Acts
including punching, beating,
kicking, biting, burning, and
shaking
Correlates of Child
Abuse





Parents have little exposure to positive
parental models and support
Greater degree of stress in family
environment
Information processing disturbances may
cause parents to misperceive child’s
behavior or intent
Lack of awareness of developmentally
appropriate expectations
Conflict and marital violence
Sequelae of Child Abuse


Emotional
 Anxiety and
depression
 Low self esteem
 Increased
anger/conflict
 Guilt and Shame
Social
 Withdrawn
 Inappropriate
sexual behavior
 Vulnerability for
re-victimization


Behavioral
 Runaway
behavior
 Self destructive
behavior
 Substance abuse
Physical
 Medical problems
 Somatic
complaints
 Injuries
Mediating Factors of Child
Abuse
 Age
of child
 younger
children are more vulnerable and have not
developed good coping skills, however, older
children are more aware of social stigma
associated with abuse
 Psychological
condition of victim
 child
with prior emotional problems or an unstable
home environment may experience more
pronounced problems
 Not
being believed or supported
 especially
from others they trust
Mediating Factors of Child
Abuse
 Stranger
vs. Known person
 more damaging effects if assaulted by a trusted
person
 Sexual knowledge or experience
 child with no prior sexual experience may be more
vulnerable
 Type of assault
 amount of bodily harm or penetration;
 does child belief body has been damaged?
 Repeated assaults
 more harm of repeatedly being abused
Mediating Factors of Child
Abuse
 Therapy
 more
likely to recover if they have individual therapy
and when they are ready, support group
Child Neglect



Physical: inadequate attention to
clothing, food, and health care
needs
Emotional: inadequate attention to
child’s emotional and
developmental needs
Educational: failure to enroll a child
in school in violation of state law,
permitting chronic truancy, or
refusing to allow needed attention
to a diagnosed educational
problem
Correlates of Child
Neglect

Poverty – *most significant
 Unemployment
 Housing
instability
 Single parenthood
 High risk neighborhoods
 Household crowding
Correlates of Child
Neglect

Family interaction style and stability
Lack of affect/apathetic
 Impulsive parents with poor planning and
organization
 Lack of knowledge about childrearing
 Social isolation
 Conflict
 Infrequent and critical parent-child
interaction


Children with medical or developmental
problems
Sequelae of Child
Neglect

Emotional

Insecure
attachment
 Low self esteem
 Increased
anger/conflict
Impaired
development
due to lack of
stimulation
 Poor academic
success



Social
Passive
 Withdrawn
 Aggressive with
peers

Cognitive

Physical
Medical
problems
 Malnutrition

Resiliency and
Adaptation


Positive relationship with at least
one important and consistent
person who provides support and
protection
Positive self-esteem and sense of
self
Prevention and
Treatment

Early prevention is key!


However, difficult if parents cannot
acknowledge maltreatment
Parent and family focused interventions
Training in child rearing
 Stress management
 Address anger patterns/distorted beliefs
 Address parenting expectations
 Household management skills

Prevention and
Treatment

Interventions for Children
 Address
child’s need for safety
 Emphasize emotional expression
 Address cognitive distortions
regarding “world as a scary place”
 Stay tuned…PTSD lecture
Other Family Issues

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Siblings
Stepfamilies
Single Parent Families
Maternal Employment
Gay/Lesbian Parents
Adoption
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Psychological Assessment of Children