Published March 31, 2017
Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology

Prior research indicates that maternal interpersonal trauma can adversely affect the emotional and social health of children. Now a study led by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s identifies a pathway that connects a mother’s traumatic experiences early in life, her subsequent depression and lack of social support to her infant’s social and emotional health.

The retrospective cohort study was led by Ted Folger, PhD, an assistant professor in Biostatistics and Epidemiology, and Robert Ammerman, PhD, a psychologist in Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology. The study analyzed data from 1,172 mother-child dyads who participated in an early childhood home visiting program run by the Every Child Succeeds program, where Ammerman is scientific director.

The prevalence of maternal interpersonal trauma exposure was 69.1 percent, and was associated with a 3.6-point higher risk score on a common test of social-emotional development. An estimated 23.4 percent of the total effect was mediated by increased maternal depressive symptoms and lower social support.

“Although not surprising, it is noteworthy that both maternal depression and social support emerge as important mechanisms to explain the link between maternal history of maltreatment and child development in offspring,” Folger says.

“These findings provide further evidence for the multi-generational impact of child abuse and neglect, and the need for us to break these connections through prevention of maltreatment,” he says. “It is likely that changes to the home-visiting program to focus more directly on these areas would have a significant impact on mothers and children.”