Children Who Witness Parental Murder: Posttraumatic Aspects

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Abstract

In this paper the traumatic situation of children witnessing a parent being murdered is examined. The purposes are to (1) evaluate the psychiatric consequences of such a trauma, in terms of meeting diagnostic criteria, and (2) assess the impact on the affective and cognitive functioning of the child. Methodological complications are present in such rare events. When a parent is seriously wounded in an attempted murder but survives, the situation is dissimilar from a parental death; when a child is directly involved, such as being shot at, a key variable has changed; the response to the child may change the outcome; differences in family structure, and the clinical status of the perpetrator (e.g., was the person psychotic and for how long?) are all relevant. This study investigated 16 children between the ages of 5 and 10 who had witnessed a parental murder. The children were assessed clinically as well as by utilizing the Impact of Event Scale. Complex legal situations often arise when children are exposed to a parental homicide. The situations may involve participation in a criminal trial as well as civil issues involving mental distress. Both may demand the child's participation as a witness, beyond the initial traumatic event of witnessing a parent murdered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)320-325
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry
Volume25
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1986

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