, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 267-290

Children with sexual behavior problems and their caregivers: Demographics, functioning, and clinical patterns

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Abstract

This article is the first report from a 5-year demonstration project examining the comparative efficacy of specialized and traditional treatments with children who have exhibited sexual behavior problems. Baseline data concerning the demographics, psychological adjustment, and victimization and perpetration histories of 72 6 to 12-year-old children who have engaged in sexual misbehavior are reported in this article. Information regarding the caregivers and extended families of these children is also presented. The data clearly demonstrate that families of children with sexual behavior problems are marked by an array of characteristics indicative of parental and familial distress, including high rates of (1) violence between parents; (2) sexual victimization and perpetration with the extended family; (3) physical abuse of the children who have exhibited sexual behavior problems; (4) children who have witnessed violence between their parents; (5) parental arrest; (6) denial of responsibility for perpetration of sexual abuse by members of the extended family; (7) poverty; (8) special educational services; (9) prior therapy for children; and (10) clinical scores on behavioral rating instruments. In particular, several significant differences emerged between younger children (6–9 years) and older children (10–12). Younger children had (1) been sexually and physically abused at an earlier age; (2) been more likely to have witnessed physical violence between parents; (3) performed problematic sexual behaviors at an earlier age; (4) a higher annual rate of problematic sexual behaviors; (5) had a higher percentage of hands-on sexual behaviors; and (6) had higher scores on measures indicative of sexual behavior problems (e.g., Child Sexual Behavior Inventory, Child Behavior Checklist—Sexual Problems Subscale). Based on these data, treatment recommendations are made for families containing children with sexual behavior problems. Given the extensive data suggesting parental characteristics that could serve as mediating variables in the sexual behavior problems of their children, effective intervention requires the involvement of the children's caregivers. The comparative efficacy of specialized and traditional treatments for these families will be reported in subsequent articles.