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Risk factors for recurrence of maltreatment: a systematic review


Background: Children who have been maltreated are at increased risk of further maltreatment. Competent identification of those at highest risk of further maltreatment is an important part of safe and effective practice, but is a complex and demanding task.

Aim: To systematically review the research base predicting those children at highest risk of recurrent maltreatment.

Methods: Systematic review of cohort studies investigating factors associated with substantiated maltreatment recurrence in children.

Results: Sixteen studies met the inclusion criteria. The studies were heterogeneous. A variety of forms of maltreatment were considered. Four factors were most consistently identified as predicting future maltreatment: number of previous episodes of maltreatment; neglect (as opposed to other forms of maltreatment); parental conflict; and parental mental health problems. Children maltreated previously were approximately six times more likely to experience recurrent maltreatment than children who had not previously been maltreated. The risk of recurrence was highest in the period soon after the index episode of maltreatment (within 30 days), and diminished thereafter.

Conclusions: There are factors clearly associated with an increased risk of recurrent maltreatment, and these should be considered in professional assessments of children who have been maltreated. A comprehensive approach to risk assessment, including but not solely based on these factors, is likely to lead to interventions which offer greater protection to children.

  • child abuse
  • maltreatment
  • recurrence

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    BMJ Publishing Group Ltd and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health