Disentangling the Effects of Exposure to Maternal Substance Misuse and Physical Abuse and Neglect on Child Behavioral Problems

Rosa S. Wong, Keith T.S. Tung, Anna W.F. Cheng, Yiu Keung Shiu, Wilfred H.S. Wong, Winnie W.Y. Tso, Matthew S.P. Ho, Ko Ling Chan, Frederick K.W. Ho, Camilla K.M. Lo, Chun Bong Chow, Patrick Ip

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3 Citations (Scopus)


There is inconsistent evidence on the association between prenatal substance exposure and child behavioral problems. Children affected by maternal substance misuse are vulnerable to physical abuse and neglect. Few studies have examined factors contributing to internalizing and externalizing problems in these children. This study, with a focus on children with prenatal substance exposure, investigated whether family characteristics (the duration of maternal substance misuse postpartum or the existence of a sibling) moderated the association between adverse exposure (physical abuse or neglect) and behavior (internalizing or externalizing problems). We recruited 54 Hong Kong Chinese mothers with registered records of substance misuse during pregnancy and their children (2-9 years). Mothers completed questionnaires on drug use patterns during pregnancy and postpartum, abusive and neglectful parenting behaviors in the preceding year, and children’s current behavioral problems. Moderated regression analyses tested whether abusive and neglectful parenting behavior interacted with family characteristics to affect child behavioral problems. The existence of a sibling moderated the relationship between neglect experience and internalizing problems, with a positive relationship observed only among single children (adjusted B [95% confidence interval] = 3.70 [0.98, 6.41], p =.012). The duration of maternal substance misuse postpartum moderated the relationship between physical abuse experience and externalizing problems, with a positive relationship observed only among children of mothers abusing substances beyond the child’s infancy period (adjusted B [95% confidence interval] = 6.86 [2.34, 11.38], p =.008). The results show that the impact of physical abuse and neglect experiences depend on the type of behavior assessed and family and child characteristics. Positive sibling relationship and early detoxification in the mother can foster healthy behavioral development for children exposed prenatally to maternal substance misuse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8435-8455
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number17-18
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Sept

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge the Society for the Aid and Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers who have helped recruit eligible mothers in this study. The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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