Risk factors for child physical abuse

Danielle A. Black, Richard E. Heyman, Amy M. Smith Slep

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

242 Scopus citations


We review the risk and protective factors for child physical abuse (CPA). An etiological model based on moderate to strongly supported risk factors would begin with distal perpetrator variables of being abused as a child/teen and receiving less family social support as a child. Next might come current family variables such as parents' youth, father's drinking, and family's living in a community that is impoverished and/or has a lower percentage of two parent families. More proximal variables that increase the probability of parents, especially mothers, employing severe or abusive physical tactics could include mothers' dysphoria (e.g., unhappiness, emotional distress, anxiety, loneliness and isolation, depression, somatic complaints, interpersonal problems, feelings of incompetence as a parent, a tendency toward becoming upset and angry), and stress (more stressful life events, including parenting and other family stresses) and coping (most likely a protective factor, including problem solving and social support). Finally, risk factors that are proximal to abuse could include mothers' high reactivity (impulsivity, high negative affect and autonomic nervous system arousal), high-risk parenting (harsh discipline strategies, verbal aggression, yelling), and negative attributions, and children's behavior problems (e.g., socialized aggression, attention deficits, and internalizing and externalizing problems).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-188
Number of pages68
JournalAggression and Violent Behavior
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2001


  • Child
  • Physical abuse
  • Risk factor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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