Horrific Violence Against Stepchildren
We can no longer ignore the facts:
Children residing in stepfamilies face a higher risk of being the victims of violence in contrast to children who reside with their biological parents.
The following brief review of the professional research illustrates that stepchildren can be are at risk of horrific violence and even death. The articles also suggests the following:
- Pre-remarriage preparation programs for stepparents and single parents planning to remarry, and
- Training family service professional in appropriate stepfamily therapy techniques
These two options that may decrease the incidences of violence against stepchildren.
It is vital to recognize that stepfamilies seldom understand, or are adequately prepared for, the extremely complex and confusing challenges that are inherent dynamics when forming a stepfamily.
It is crucial that governments, universities, therapists, family service organizations, and professionals understand that stepfamilies cannot and must not be considered the same as first families.
Consider the following:
In Canada, the police database indicate that children under the age of 5 who were residing with their biological fathers were beaten to death by their biological fathers at a rate of 2.6 deaths per million child. In contrast the corresponding rates of lethal abuse by stepfathers was over 120 times greater at 321.6 deaths per million child (Daly & Wilson 2001).
In a 2004, a US national research study of 1,000 children aged 10 – 17 years, from single parents and stepfamilies found children experienced higher rates of several different kinds of victimization compared to youth living with two biological parents. Furthermore, youth in stepfamilies had the highest overall rates of victimization and the greatest risk from family perpetrators, including biological parents, siblings ,and stepparents.
Higher levels of family problems and parental dysfunctions explained the elevated risk in stepfamilies. (H. A. Turner 2004). Turner went on to suggest that prevention programs involving counselling and parenting education would help protect children.
D’Alession & Stolzenbery’s (2012) completed a multilevel analysis of child abuse incidents reported to police in 133 U.S. cities in 2005. Their analysis indicated that in cities with a high level of community disadvantage, stepchildren are much more apt to suffer a physical injury in comparison to birth children.
Lawton and Sanders suggest: “There is growing evidence that children living in stepfamilies are at greater risk of developing behavior problems, particularly aggressive, antisocial behavior problems, than children living in intact two-parent families…….. These children are also at high risk of serious long-term consequences including school drop-out and substance abuse.’The also suggested using a behavioural family intervention model addressing the deficits in skills.
Many professionals lack the appropriate theoretical tools necessary to formulate effective interventions.
Remarried or co-habiting couples report they were dissatisfied with their therapist and cited the therapist’s lack of awareness of stepfamily dynamics as the problem.
Research has demonstrated that professionals who are trained to recognize unique stepfamily dynamics are better able to empower remarried families to resolve issues and build, strengthen and nurture healthy stepfamily dynamics.
We must ask ourselves the following:
- Are family service professionals and stepfamilies prepared to acknowledge that there is a significantly increased risk that children in stepfamilies will be brutalized?
- Is the professional community aware this is a critical lack of informed community resources, educationally appropriate programs and therapeutic services for stepcouples and their children?
- Are professionals prepared to develop the essential clinical skills required to work effectively with stepfamilies?
- Will governments and policy makers provide professional development opportunities to enable social workers, family counsellors, and therapists to provide stepfamily counselling and education programs?
- Will professionals in private practice take steps and develop the essential clinical skills necessary to recognize, assess and respond to both the complex stepfamily developmental cycle and potential risk factors in stepfamilies?
The Canadian Stepfamily Institute was founded in response to the above questions. Powerful and compelling driven by research, professional development learning opportunities are now available for family therapists, family service professionals, and organizations.
From Intake to Integration: A Clinical Framework for Stepfamily Therapy is now open for registration click here for details
Dianne Martin, BSW, RSW
March 20, 2017