Social skills and social isolation in physically abusive families



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Research investigating isolation in abusive families has focused on social networks and found that these families have smaller, less well connected networks. However, researchers have failed to investigate what might account for these findings inspite of frequent speculation that poor parent social skills may be involved. Researchers have also often failed to distinguish between physically abusive and neglectful families, blurring potential distinctions, despite findings of differences between the groups on child related factors. In this study 21 mothers of physically abused children referred to Childrens' Protective Services (CPS) completed questionnaires assessing global social skills level, and skills in situations involving confrontation and assertiveness. The mothers were also administered a structured interview assessing structural and support characteristics of their social networks. Their responses were compared statistically with those of 21 mothers, also involved with CPS, whose children had been neglected, and with those of 21 mothers whose children had no CPS history. The study found that mothers in the maltreatment groups had smaller social networks comprised of fewer unconflicted relationships and had less available social support. Discriminant analyses revealed that the physical abuse group was best differentiated from the other groups by the difference between their global social skills and their skills in situations involving assertiveness and situations involving confrontation. In regression analyses the group by social skills interactions were important factors in predicting available social support and support received. Specifically, controlling for SES, better skill in dealing with confrontation was associated with more available support in each group. Also, a positive relationship between assertiveness and available support was evident in the maltreatment groups. The findings are discussed in terms of a more encompassing child maltreatment model, and treatment and research implications drawn. Social skills training aimed at helping parents deal with anger and confrontation was recommended as one component of treatment. Further research which distinguishes between physically abusive and neglectful families and examines the relationship between their social skills and networks was recommended.



Child abuse, United States, Mother and child, Social networks