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:

  1. Pre-remarriage preparation programs for stepparents and single parents planning to remarry, and
  2. 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 evolutionary psychology, the Cinderella effect is the alleged higher incidence of different forms of child-abuse and mistreatment by stepparents in contrast to abuse by biological parents.

 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


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Posted by: administrator ON Mon, March 20, 2017 at 11:52:26 am MDT


We know that living in the stepfamily is a very complicated situation.  And it is highly confusing and discombobulating for our kids as well.



I was reading another article or blog where the author referred to blended families .  Well  most of you know my thoughts about using the term blended instead of step.



Blended suggest that the process is easy and that everyone will just fit together without any lumps bumps or unsightly clumps that occur.



Well we all know that ain't going to true! 



Stepfamilies are all about colliding desires and conflicting needs -  which leave bumps, bruises, and wounded hearts.




So for example a four-year-old  is moving into a stepfamily. She will have a stepmother or stepfather she will have a stepbrother, or stepsister and they will be called stepsiblings.




She did not have a blended mother or a blended father she does not have a blended sister or blended brother.  So why or why is her family called a blended family???? Why is this--or any other-- child  entering a stepfamly be confused by our self inflicted identify crisis?




Wouldn't be ever so much easier for children if we used consistency in our terms?



Yes , unfortunatgely there are a host of negative stereotypical ideas about stepfamilies.



A sense of stigma attached to the term stepmom... we have our fairy tails and folklore to blame for the stigmatization of stepfamilies.  So best stop kids from hearing or reading fairy tales.


But it's time we stood up to be counted, to be proud of who we are and to put aside our identity conflicts and proudly proclaimed that we are


Stepparents, stepmom, stepdad, stepbrothers stepsisters,

step-grandparents and step-aunties and step-uncles.


Take care my Friends

Dianne Martin - Stepmom and Advocate

March 13, 2016

Call for a complimentary consultation

Telephone 250- 619-9555


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