Prevention Science

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 757–766 | Cite as

Prevalence and Community Variation in Harmful Levels of Family Conflict Witnessed by Children: Implications for Prevention

  • Cherine HabibEmail author
  • John W. Toumbourou
  • Martin McRitchie
  • Joanne Williams
  • Peter Kremer
  • Dean McKenzie
  • Richard F. Catalano


Children’s reports of high family conflict consistently predict poor outcomes. The study identified criteria for high family conflict based on prospective prediction of increased risk for childhood depression. These criteria were subsequently used to establish the prevalence of high family conflict in Australian communities and to identify community correlates suitable for targeting prevention programs. Study 1 utilised a longitudinal design. Grade 6 and 8 students completed a family conflict scale (from the widely used Communities That Care survey) in 2003 and depression symptomotology were evaluated at a 1-year follow-up (International Youth Development Study, N = 1,798). Receiver-operating characteristic analysis yielded a cut-off point on a family conflict score with depression symptomatology as a criterion variable. A cut-off score of 2.5 or more (on a scale of 1 to 4) correctly identified 69 % with depression symptomology, with a specificity of 77.2 % and sensitivity at 44.3 %. Study 2 used data from an Australian national survey of Grade 6 and 8 children (Healthy Neighbourhoods Study, N = 8,256). Prevalence estimates were calculated, and multivariate logistic regression with multi-level modelling was used to establish factors associated with community variation in family conflict levels. Thirty-three percent of Australian children in 2006 were exposed to levels of family conflict that are likely to increase their future risk for depression. Significant community correlates for elevated family conflict included Indigenous Australian identification, socioeconomic disadvantage, urban and state location, maternal absence and paternal unemployment. The analysis provides indicators for targeting family-level mental health promotion programs.


Family conflict Prevalence Children Depression Health promotion 



The authors are grateful for the financial support provided by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (project number, 334304) for HNS data collection, by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01-DA012140-05) for IYDS data collection, and the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (R01AA017188-01) and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (project number, 491241) for funding data analysis and paper writing on the IYDS. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, or the National Institutes of Health. The authors express their appreciation and thanks to project staff and participants for their valuable contribution to the project.


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cherine Habib
    • 1
    Email author
  • John W. Toumbourou
    • 1
    • 2
  • Martin McRitchie
    • 1
  • Joanne Williams
    • 2
  • Peter Kremer
    • 3
  • Dean McKenzie
    • 2
    • 4
  • Richard F. Catalano
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Psychology and Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing ResearchDeakin UniversityGeelongAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Adolescent HealthMurdoch Childrens Research Institute, Royal Children’s HospitalMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.School of Exercise and Nutritional SciencesDeakin UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.Department of Epidemiology & Preventive MedicineMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  5. 5.Social Development Research GroupUniversity of WashingtonWashingtonUSA

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