The recent researches indicate “41% percent of first marriages, 60% of second and 73% of third marriages end in divorce in America”. This is a very frightening fact because it more likely affects children by neglect, physical child abuse, and aggression that simultaneously affect the society in general. The result of the literature review suggests that stepfamilies are viewed more negatively and mainly because of the issues related to physical child abuse. Given that one of the important characteristics of social work is “the focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society” (NASW, 1994), this research study is crucial for Social Work and it seeks to answer the questions: “Are stepchildren overrepresented in physical abuse reports? How does stepparent influence on a biological parent’s behavior that leads to physical child abuse?
What have already been done in this area?
There are thousands of studies done on biological or intact families and relationships between children and parents in comparison with that of stepfamilies. Based on the seven peer-reviewed articles the following research questions were covered: What do we know about the physical abuse of stepchildren? What are the stereotypes of stepfamilies and how do they influence on family functioning? Does child abuse in stepfather families occur more often than it does in biological father families? How bioparent-child relationships can be negatively impacted through remarriage and stepfamily living? What are young adults’ perceptions of their relationships with their stepfathers and fathers? However, as the literature research shows, the results cannot be applied for the population because of many considerate limitations observed and therefore there is a need for further research of the same questions with larger samples as well as to address the gap mentioned earlier. It is worth mentioning that most of the research survey results covered in this paper held in America, Canada and Australia and the qualitative and quantitative reports were issued based on the results of official reports and statistical analyses, method of thematic analysis and questionnaires, tests, telephone inquiries and observations.
Why is it important area for social work?
The reason of the importance to investigate the relationships between first parents and physical child abuse with the focus of stepfathers is the fact that National statistics of Canada gives over half a million of stepfamilies where children live mostly with stepfathers (Statistics Canada, 2005). The same is in America where “children live with stepparent (usually a stepfather)” (Bumpass, Raley, & Sweet, 1995). Though many related questions were covered by scientists and psychologists for the last forty years since physical child abuse was recognized as social issue in stepfamilies, little investigation was done on stepparent-stepchild physical abuse. This is mainly because “research on stepfamilies in general is comparatively new in social science literature”(Adler-Baeder, 2006). Francesca Adler-Baeder examined the issue of stepchild abuse both in Canada and the U.S. adolescents trying to answer the following research questions: “Are stepchildren overrepresented in reported incidences of physical abuse in general? After analyzing the eleven works published between 1980 till 1988 the author concludes that stepchildren were overrepresented as physical abuse victims by their stepparents. The conclusions are not decisive because: (1) the three out of eleven studies concluded that stepchildren may not be disproportionately victims of physical abuse by stepparents; (2)small sample sizes that were less than 200 families. (3) Moreover, due to phone research inquiries some questions remained unclear. For example, it is not clear who abused the child whether it is a stepparent or a biological parent.
Another article describes parenting styles as “helpful” or “hurtful” to relationships with children where the bioparent-child relationship is the key to the wellbeing of children (Cartwright, 2003). She also observes how children from the first marriages are neglected and mistreated and why. Some of the reasons that biological mothers do not have free time due to mutual born children from the second marriage. All the attention is given to the mutual children and thus first children feel lonely that may lead to antisocial behavior in future. This is also the area that is crucial for further investigation for Social Work where through counseling of affected children, individuals and families social workers may bring visible positive behavioral changes.
It is also worth researching because the hypothesis that child abuse in stepfather families is worse was not supported (Claxton-Oldfield&Whitt, 2006). Unlike outdated studies “the rate of overall violence was significantly lower for stepchildren than all other children” (p. 19). All these articles have limitations in the number of participants in the study. Therefore it is hard to generalize the findings towards the population.
Due to the limitations of the presented works such as small numbers of participants living in mother-stepfather families and indecisive findings it is crucial for future research include a larger sample of participants in the stepfather group in order to analyze such model. The knowledge would be of importance to prevent the potential risk factors for child physical abuse in any stepfamily structure and tailor the programs to meet the needs of abused children and reduce the physical child abuse in the stepfamilies.