Other Theories About Stepchild Abuse and Neglect

There are other theories about child abuse in stepfamilies. By and large, these are the same frameworks used to explain other stepchild outcomes—selection effects, stress, resources, incomplete institutionalization, and more. The selection argument proposes that individuals reared in violent families as children are more likely to find themselves in stepfamilies than others (Giles-Sims & Finkelhor, 1984), and that adults with children are less attractive mating partners than adults without children, and so they have a more limited pool of partners, some of whom have psychological or behavioral problems that predispose them to domestic violence. The stress argument is that some members of step-households have experienced the cumulative stress of multiple family transitions, and this makes them more prone to family conflict and violence. Linked to the stress view, the resource theory proposes that inadequate fiscal, intrapersonal, and interpersonal resources increases the odds of family violence and child abuse. Finally, characteristics of step-households (e.g., complexity, lack of institutional support, role ambiguity) are thought to increase the likelihood of conflict and violence (Giles-Sims, 1997).

Physical abuse and sexual abuse of stepchildren are important research topics that should receive further study. Research in this area has slowed in recent years; most studies of physical or sexual abuse of stepchildren are more than 20 years old (Adler-Baeder, 2006) . Perhaps scholars think that if there are genetically based explanations for abuse and neglect, no further study is needed on the question of why stepchildren are abused and neglected more than children living with both parents. We think the issue of stepchild abuse also has been politicized, which likely discourages researchers from examining this topic. For instance, remarried parents have been accused of child abuse because they bring a stepparent into their households (Popenoe, 1994) and Cinderella is pointed to not as a cautionary metaphor but as a truth about the physical risks stepchildren face (Daly & Wilson, 1998). The abuse of children is a serious subject that deserves careful study with clear operational definitions and better data about the contexts in which this occurs, and the processes by which stepchildren are mistreated by stepparents and other family members (Adler-Baeder, 2006 ).

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >