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Children’s Mental Health and Well-Being After Parental Intimate Partner Homicide: A Systematic Review

Abstract

When one parent kills the other, children are confronted with multiple losses, involving their attachment figures and their direct living environment. In these complex situations, potentially drastic decisions are made, for example, regarding new living arrangements and contact with the perpetrating parent. We aimed to synthesize the empirical literature on children’s mental health and well-being after parental intimate partner homicide. A systematic search identified 17 relevant peer-reviewed articles (13 independent samples). We recorded the theoretical background, methodology, and sample characteristics of the studies, and extracted all child outcomes as well as potential risk and protective factors. Children’s outcomes varied widely and included psychological, social, physical, and academic consequences (e.g., post-traumatic stress, attachment difficulties, weight and appetite changes, and drops in school grades). Potential risk and protective factors for children’s outcomes included 10 categories of pre-, peri-, and post-homicide characteristics such as cultural background of the family, whether the child witnessed the homicide, and the level of conflict between the families of the victim and the perpetrator. We integrated the findings into a conceptual model of risk factors to direct clinical reflection and further research.

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Notes

  1. Note that these descriptions also included children who lost a parent due to other types of homicide. Therefore, not all responses mentioned in the article by Eth and Pynoos have been included in Table 2.

  2. Which we primarily categorized as a psychological outcome (numbing) and a physical outcome (eating/feeding problems), respectively; the categories are interrelated.

  3. We do believe that developmental stage plays a role. However, our impression is that different stages correspond to different outcome profiles (in line with Eth and Pynoos 1994) rather than increases/decreases in symptoms.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Dr. Peter Sidebotham and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on previous versions of the manuscript. Dr Alisic has been supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (Rubicon Fellowship 446-11-021) and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (Early Career Fellowship 1090229).

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Alisic, E., Krishna, R.N., Groot, A. et al. Children’s Mental Health and Well-Being After Parental Intimate Partner Homicide: A Systematic Review. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev 18, 328–345 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-015-0193-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-015-0193-7

Keywords

  • Bereavement
  • Domestic violence
  • Femicide
  • Intimate partner violence
  • PTSD
  • Uxoricide