Family-based factors that protect children against adversities

April 30, 2019

New research from CSDA has identified family-based factors that are protective for children at risk of experiencing childhood adversities (specific experiences associated with poor outcomes later in life.)

The research funded by the Children and Families Research Fund (Ministry of Social Development) used data from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study to follow the experiences of 5,500 children until the age of four and a half.  The authors are Rhema Vaithianathan, Tim Maloney, Sophie Joyce and Matthew Walsh from CSDA.

The quality of the mother-partner relationship and parental health and wellness were identified as protective factors that may allow some children to experience no adversities, despite being at heightened risk of experiencing multiple adversities.

“Finding these protective factors is some cause for optimism, because despite challenges at birth we now know there are protective family-based strengths that can be identified and nurtured to help children get a better start in life,” says Rhema Vaithianathan.

For this study, eight specific childhood adversities were identified in the data: emotional abuse of child, physical abuse of child, use of illegal street drugs by parent or partner, depression of parent or partner, separation or divorce of parent, intimate violence of parent or partner, parent or partner a problem drinker or alcoholic and incarceration of parent or partner.  More than half the children studied had experienced at least one of these adversities by four and a half years old.

The researchers also found that children’s performance in school readiness tests at four-and-a-half years of age declined in direct correlation with the number of adversities they had experienced.

Researchers hope the findings of the study can help to inform the practices of frontline workers supporting vulnerable families, and future policy development.

The findings of this research were published in two reports on the Ministry of Social Development website and in a peer reviewed paper on school readiness in the New Zealand Medical Journal  (12 April 2019).