Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A pedestrian passes a job centre in London on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012.

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

When a parent struggles with addiction, long-term unemployment or divorce, kids get hurt, too. More than a third of adults who grew up in homes with all three risk factors report suffering childhood physical abuse, a study of 26,000 Canadians has found. Compared to other adults, those raised by parents dealing with addiction, unemployment and divorce were 10 times more likely, when they were children, to have been physically abused by someone close to them.

Although risk factors such as long-term unemployment and addiction are known to have negative effects on kids, the researchers say they were astonished by the magnitude of their combined effect.

A tenfold risk is highly unusual in social-science research, says Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor of social work at the University of Toronto and author of the study, which was published online this week in the journal Child: Care, Health and Development. After analyzing data from a 1995 Statistics Canada report on 13,000 Canadians, she and co-author Jami-Leigh Sawyer, a doctoral candidate in the faculty of social work, crunched the numbers again using a separate cohort of 13,000 Manitobans and Saskatchewanians surveyed in a 2005 Statscan report.

Story continues below advertisement

"The findings were remarkably consistent," Fuller-Thomson says, "and it's very worrisome."

In adults with none of the risk factors, the rate of childhood physical abuse was 3.4 per cent. That number jumped to 10.7 per cent in adults of divorced parents, 9.7 per cent if a parent faced long-term unemployment and 19.5 per cent if a parent had an addiction. When two of the risk factors were present, between 25 and 30 per cent of adults reported they had been physically abused in childhood.

Fuller-Thomson notes it isn't clear whether addiction, unemployment or divorce were causes of abuse. For example, divorce might be the outcome of an abusive relationship that a parent ended to protect the child. Long-term unemployment may be a sign of other problems, including various disabilities. Similarly, an addicted parent may have been an abuser or simply unable to protect a child from abuse.

The severity of the abuse reported and the identity of the abusers are unknown, since the survey question about abuse was worded, simply: "Were you ever physically abused by someone close to you?"

But Fuller-Thomson says she is not concerned that respondents might have exaggerated their childhood experiences. In general, she says, researchers studying childhood physical abuse find "underreporting as opposed to overreporting."

Fuller-Thomson emphasizes that the number of adults who had faced all three risk factors as children was relatively small – about 1.5 per cent – and, of those, two-thirds did not experience physical abuse.

Currently, the World Health Organization does not recommend routine screening of children for abuse, due to the risk of investigations based on false indications of abuse, which are very disruptive for families, Fuller-Thomson explains.

Story continues below advertisement

The new findings lay the groundwork for studies that would follow groups of children and determine abuse rates in those raised in households affected by addiction, unemployment and divorce. If these risk factors are firmly established as markers of abuse, they could be incorporated in a simple screening test used by professionals such as teachers and family doctors to flag children who may be victims of abuse, she says. "We're talking about the nation's children, so we should all be alert and aware of any potential abuse."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies