Are children born to young mothers at increased risk of maltreatment?

D. M. Stier, J. M. Leventhal*, A. T. Berg, L. Johnson, J. Mezger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


Previous case-control or cross-sectional studies have provided conflicting results about whether children of teenage mothers are at increased risk of maltreatment compared with children of older mothers. This study is the first to examine this question using a longitudinal, cohort design and the first to address important methodologic issues such as detection bias. Subjects were 219 consecutive index children born to inner-city women who were 18 years or younger and 219 sociodemographically similar comparison children born to women 19 years or older. Data were collected by reviewing the medical records of each child through the fifth birthday. Three outcomes were examined: maltreatment, poor growth, and a change in the child's primary caretaker. Maltreatment was ascertained by having two experts, one of whom was blind to the group status, review each injury documented in the records. Predefined criteria were used to distinguish unintentional injuries from maltreatment (abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse). Maltreatment occurred more frequently in the children of young mothers (12.8%) than in the comparison group (6.4%) (risk ratio [RR] = 2.00; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.17, 3.64). Poor growth, defined by growth criteria, occurred in 6.9% of the index group and in 4.1% of comparison children (RR = 1.67; 95% CI = 0.75, 3.73). A change in the child's primary caretaker, either because of placement in foster care or because the mother left the home, occurred in 12.8% of the index group and in 3.2% in comparison children (RR = 4.00; 95% CI = 1.80, 8.87). Children of teenage mothers, compared with children of older mothers, are at increased risk of maltreatment and of changes in their primary caretakers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)642-648
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1993


  • adolescence
  • child abuse
  • child maltreatment
  • parenting
  • teenage pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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