Parents’ PTSD Symptoms and Child Abuse Potential During the Perinatal Period: Direct Associations and Mediation via Relationship Conflict




Steffany J. Fredman, Yunying Le, Amy D. Marshall, Walter Garcia Hernandez, Mark E. Feinberg, and Robert T. Ammerman

Brief Type

Journal Publication


  • Healthy Families America (HFA)


Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms are associated with parental aggression towards children, but little is known about the relation between parents’ PTSD symptoms and their risk for perpetrating child physical abuse during the early parenting years, when the potential for prevention of abuse may be highest. Objective: To examine direct associations between mothers’ and fathers’ PTSD symptoms and child abuse potential, as well as indirect effects through couple relationship adjustment (i.e., conflict and love) in a high-risk sample of parents during the perinatal period, most of whom were first-time parents. Participants and setting: From March 2013 to August 2016, data were collected from 150 expecting or new parental dyads in which the mother was participating in a home visiting program. Methods: Data were analyzed using the Actor-Partner Interdependence Mediation Model. Results: For mothers and fathers, there were direct associations between PTSD symptom severity and child abuse potential (βs=.51, ps<.001), and this association for fathers was stronger at higher levels of mothers’ PTSD symptoms (β=.15, p= .03). In addition, parents’ own and their partners’ PTSD symptoms were each indirectly associated with parents’ own child abuse potential through parents’ report of interparental conflict (standardized indirect effects = .052–.069, ps=.004) but not love. Conclusions: Addressing parents’ PTSD symptoms and relationship conflict during the perinatal period using both systemic and developmental perspectives may uniquely serve to decrease the risk of child physical abuse and its myriad adverse consequences. (author abstract)

Data Collection Methods

  • Standardized assessment tools



For More Information

Fredman, S. J., Le, Y., Marshall, A. D., Hernandez, W. G., Feinberg, M. E., & Ammerman, R. T. (2019). Parents’ PTSD symptoms and child abuse potential during the perinatal period: Direct associations and mediation via relationship conflict. Child Abuse & Neglect90, 66-75. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2019.01.024
Author Contact Information:
Steffany J. Fredman


  • Participant, Family, and Program Outcomes