Maternal Childhood Maltreatment History and Child Mental Health: Mechanisms in Intergenerational Effects

Michelle Bosquet Enlow, Michelle M. Englund, Byron Egeland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


The objectives of this study were to examine whether a maternal history of maltreatment in childhood has a detrimental impact on young children’s mental health and to test theoretically and empirically informed pathways by which maternal history may influence child mental health. Mother–child dyads (N = 187) were evaluated between birth and 64 months of age via home and laboratory observations, medical and child protection record reviews, and maternal interviews to assess maternal history of childhood maltreatment and microsystem and exosystem measures of the caregiving context, including child maltreatment, maternal caregiving quality, stress exposures, and social support. When the children were 7 years of age, mothers and teachers reported on child emotional and behavioral problems. Analyses examined whether the caregiving context variables linked maternal maltreatment history with child emotional and behavioral problems, controlling for child sex (54% male), race/ethnicity (63% White), and family sociodemographic risk at birth. Maltreated mothers experienced greater stress and diminished social support, and their children were more likely to be maltreated across early childhood. By age 7, children of maltreated mothers were at increased risk for clinically significant emotional and behavioral problems. A path analysis model showed mediation of the effects of maternal childhood maltreatment history on child symptoms, with specific effects significant for child maltreatment. Interventions that reduce child maltreatment risk and stress exposures and increase family social support may prevent deleterious effects of maternal childhood maltreatment history on child mental health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S47-S62
JournalJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
Issue numbersup1
StatePublished - Dec 21 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research was supported by grants to the last author from the Maternal and Child Health Service (MCR-270416), the William T. Grant Foundation, New York, and the National Institute of Mental Health (MH-40864). During preparation of this manuscript, the authors were supported by K08 MH074588 and the Program for Behavioral Science in the Department of Psychiatry at Boston Children’s Hospital (Bosquet Enlow) and R01 HD054850 and R01 AG039453 (Englund, Egeland). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not represent the official views of any granting agency.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Copyright © Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.


Dive into the research topics of 'Maternal Childhood Maltreatment History and Child Mental Health: Mechanisms in Intergenerational Effects'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this