Child maltreatment: An intergenerational cascades model of risk processes potentiating child psychopathology

Justin Russotti, Jennifer M. Warmingham, Elizabeth D. Handley, Fred A. Rogosch, Dante Cicchetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background: Child maltreatment poses substantial risk for compromised mental health in children. Further, child abuse and neglect are potentiated within a cascade of intergenerational and current familial risk processes that require clarification to inform understanding of adverse outcomes and direct prevention and intervention efforts. Objective: Using a multi-informant design, the current study applied an intergenerational cascades approach to examine the interconnected pathways among several familial risk factors associated with child maltreatment and its consequences. Participants: Participants were 378 children (aged 10−12) and their mothers from economically disadvantaged, ethnically diverse backgrounds. The sample included maltreated children recruited via CPS records and demographically comparable non-maltreated children. Methods: Structural equation modeling (SEM) was conducted to test sequential mediation pathways examining the independent and cascading effects of maternal history of childhood maltreatment, maternal adolescent childbearing, current maternal depression, and the child's lifetime history of maltreatment on the child's internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Results: Multigenerational developmental cascades were identified. Maternal history of maltreatment predicted chronic maltreatment for offspring, which in turn predicted greater internalizing (β =. 167, p = .03) and externalizing symptoms (β =. 236, p = .005) in late childhood. Similarly, children born to mothers who began childbearing in adolescence were more likely to experience chronic maltreatment during childhood and develop subsequent symptoms. Effects were found over and above a parallel cascade from maternal maltreatment to offspring psychopathology via a maternal depression pathway. Conclusion: Findings reveal targets to prevent or ameliorate progressions of intergenerational risk pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104829
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants received from the National Institute on Drug Abuse ( R01DA17741 ), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development ( P50-HD096698 ), and the Spunk Fund, Inc.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Child maltreatment
  • Developmental psychopathology
  • Intergenerational cascades


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