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The effects of ontogenic, microsystem and mesosystem variables on the outcome of child abuse Papatola, Kathleen Joan


The purpose of this investigation was to empirically test an ecological model of child abuse. The orientation of this model is to address the contexts in which individuals function. The three contexts pivotal to the current investigation are the ontogenic system, representing personality traits and the quality of care received by the mother in her childhood the microsystem, representing the dyadic relationships between the mother and her child, and the mother and the rest of her family; the microsystem, representing the relationship between the mother and her social network as well as the impact of life stress. A prospective method of investigation was used. One hundred seven women were selected from a larger pool of women previously identified as high risk. Half of these women were clearly abusing their children while the other half were providing adequate care. Discriminant function analyses were employed to determine the rates of prediction into abusing and nonabu-sing groups, first for individual systems, then for all three systems simultaneously. The hypotheses predicted a higher percentage of correct classification when all systems were considered together, rather than individually. These hypotheses were supported. An 86% rate of correct classification was obtained when ontogenic, microsystem and mesosystem variables were entered together. This is in contrast to a 76% rate of correct classification for ontogenic, 69% for microsystem and 76% for the mesosystem. The most powerful predictors were the quality of care the mother received in her own childhood, family continuity and life stress. Results from additional descriptive analyses suggest that women who abuse their children are not more socially isolated than those who do not abuse, nor are they more impulsive or hostile. Stress appeared to be an important variable only for those women who had, themselves, been victims of abuse. The results of this investigation suggest that multivariate methods are a fruitful direction for future inquiry into abuse etiology.

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