Severe physical punishment and mental health problems in an economically disadvantaged population of children and adolescents

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Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria
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Bordin I.A.S.
Paula C.S.
Do Nascimento R.
Duarte C.S.
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Objective: To estimate the prevalence of severe physical punishment of children/adolescents in a low-income community, and to examine child mental health problems as a potential correlate. Method: This study is a Brazilian cross-sectional pilot study of the World Studies of Abuse in Family Environments. A probabilistic sample of clusters including all eligible households (women aged 15-49 years, son/daughter < 18 years) was evaluated. One mother-child pair was randomly selected per household (n = 89; attrition = 11%). Outcome (severe physical punishment of children/adolescents by mother/father) was defined as shaking (if age ≤ 2 years), kicking, choking, smothering, burning/scalding/branding, beating, or threatening with weapon. Three groups of potential correlates were examined: child/adolescent (age, gender, physical/mental health); mother (education, unemployment, physical/mental health, harsh physical punishment in childhood, marital violence); father (unemployment, drunkenness). Severe marital violence was defined as kicking, hitting, beating or use of /threat to use a weapon. The following standardized questionnaires were applied by trained interviewers: World Studies of Abuse in Family Environments Core Questionnaire, Child Behavior Checklist, Self-Report Questionnaire. Results: Outcome prevalence was 10.1%. Final logistic regression models identified two correlates: maternal harsh physical punishment in childhood (total sample, OR = 5.3, p = 0.047), and child/adolescent mental health problems (sub-sample aged 4-17 years, n = 67, OR = 9.1, p = 0.017). Conclusions: Severe physical punishment of children/adolescents is frequent in the studied community. The victims have a higher probability of becoming future perpetrators. When intrafamilial violence occurs, child/adolescent mental health may be compromised.
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