Adults with histories of childhood abuse are particularly vulnerable to the development of stress- related psychopathology in adulthood. Although much research has focused on long-term negative sequel of childhood abuse across the lifespan of the abused child, surprisingly little research has examined the impact of childhood abuse across generations or the mechanisms of its trans-generational impact. Research demonstrates that children of mothers who were abused in childhood are at increased risk for stress related psychological disorders in adulthood and that mothers living in stressful environments are at increased risk for child maltreatment, impaired parenting and psychological disorders. Given the elevated levels of environmental stressors for families living in low-income, urban environments, it is particularly critical that we delineate how trauma is transmitted across generations in these populations. In order to address this gap in the literature, we propose to collect data on 400 low-income, urban, African American mothers and their 9-12 year old offspring. We will gather data at baseline and at 9 and 18 months post baseline. The proposed research will focus on maternal affect and affect regulation, and on maternal parenting and maternal stress response biomarkers as intermediate phenotypes that may contribute to increased intergenerational risk in children of maltreated mothers. We will also examine the role of child exposure to trauma, neighborhood violence and stress. We anticipate that this research will contribute significantly to the development of empirically grounded intervention and prevention approaches aimed at increasing resilience and decreasing risk in this population.

Public Health Relevance

Children raised in environments of concentrated disadvantage are at very high risk for lifetime stress-related psychopathology and a factor that may amplify risk in this population is maternal history of childhood maltreatment. Children of mothers with a history of childhood maltreatment are at increased risk for stress-related psychological disorders promoting an intergenerational pattern of risk. The goal of this research is to inform the development of novel and effective assessment and treatment approaches in at-risk mothers and their children.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Griffin, James
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Emory University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Cross, Dorthie; Vance, L Alexander; Kim, Ye Ji et al. (2018) Trauma exposure, PTSD, and parenting in a community sample of low-income, predominantly African American mothers and children. Psychol Trauma 10:327-335
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