From mother to child: Maternal betrayal trauma and risk for maltreatment and psychopathology in the next generation

Rebecca L. Babcock Fenerci, Brian Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


The objective of this study was to investigate whether experiences of high betrayal trauma (BT; maltreatment by a parent/caregiver) during mothers' own childhoods may influence the intergenerational transmission of maltreatment and its associated psychopathology from mothers to their children. A prospective, longitudinal design was utilized to assess maternal physical and sexual betrayal trauma in relation to children's own maltreatment experiences, and child mood and behavioral symptoms during pre-adolescence. Data from 706 mothers and children who participated in the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) was analyzed, including: mothers’ physical and sexual maltreatment histories, child protective services’ documented physical and sexual maltreatment during children's first twelve years of life, and mother- and child-reports of child internalizing and externalizing symptoms at age 12. Children of mothers who survived high BT (maltreatment by a caregiver) were 4.52 times more likely to experience maltreatment than children of no BT mothers (mothers whom were not maltreated), and 1.58 times more likely than children whose mothers survived low BT (maltreatment by a non-caregiver). Higher levels of maternal physical BT significantly predicted more internalizing and externalizing symptoms in children at age 12, according to both mother (CBCL) and child (YSR) reports. More incidents of child physical maltreatment partially mediated associations between maternal physical BT and child symptoms. Incidents of sexual maltreatment also partially mediated associations between maternal sexual BT and child internalizing and externalizing symptoms (CBCL only). These findings have implications for understanding the role of betrayal trauma in perpetuating the cycle of maltreatment across generations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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