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STUDY: Adopting interventions that prevent violence on mothers, children

Jan. 6, 2023
STUDY: Adopting interventions that prevent violence on mothers, children
A snip from The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Network) with inset of Ifakara Health Institute researcher Dr. Honorati Masanja who contributed to the study and publication. GRAPHIC | IFAKARA/KMC.

A new study involving Ifakara Health Institute scientist Dr. Honorati Masanja and others from the US has underlined the importance of interventions for mothers, children and families to reduce intimate partner violence and depression which can be caused by growing up in an abusive and toxic environment.
The interventions, which include protection policies for mothers and children were recommended by the scientists after they conducted a study in rural Tanzania investigating how abusive and toxic environments can greatly affect the psychosocial development of children and later affect their life outcomes.

Dr. Masanja and colleagues including Clariana Vitória Ramos de Oliveira from the University of Nevada; Dana Charles McCoy from Harvard Graduate School of Education; Christopher Sudfeld, Alfa Muhihi, Wafaie Fawzi and Aisha K. Yousafzai from Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health shared these recommendations in their study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Network) on December 29, 2022.

“Globally, protection policies for mothers and children are needed to address the prevention of violence and to provide safety and support for those who have experienced violence,” they wrote in their paper.

For the study, which was conducted in Morogoro region in Tanzania in 2014, the scientists wanted to examine the association between intimate partner violence (IPV), maternal depressive symptoms, harsh child discipline, and child stimulation with child socio-emotional development. 

They used data from 981 mothers and their children aged 18 to 36 months and conducted a child development follow-up study between February and October 2014. After the follow-up study, they analyzed data results that revealed children whose mothers experienced IPV or depression were likely to have poorer socioemotional development.

“Experience of physical IPV and increased maternal depressive symptoms were significantly associated with lower socioemotional development scores for children… Children may not directly experience the violence, but they may still be affected by the abuse through the state of maternal mental health,” they noted.

Some of the abuse likely faced by children included harsh disciplinary practices of yelling and spanking or hitting with most mothers reporting performing moderate to a low number of stimulation activities such as engaging in “6 play and learning activities with the child in the past 3 days”.

The study found that 1 in 4 mothers in rural Tanzania reported experiencing IPV – either physically or sexually – while 1 in 12 reported mild to severe depressive symptoms.

“The high burden of IPV and depression indicates the need for interventions for mothers, children, and families in rural Tanzania and similar settings to reduce and ameliorate IPV and poor maternal mental health,” suggested the scientists.

Other interventions suggested by the scientists include the need to improve access to screening for IPV, maternal depressive symptoms, and protective childcare and having “clear protocols” which would help health clinicians, social workers, and protective sectors (e.g., police officers) to identify all forms of IPV and make appropriate referrals to protect the caregiver and child.

According to the scientists, similar studies have been conducted in other parts of the world and show consistent findings to their study. For instance, in the US, a study observed that children whose mothers were exposed to IPV had delays in at least 1 developmental milestone, increasing almost twice the chance of delay in personal-social development.  

Similarly, another study in Kenya found that children exposed to IPV had a high prevalence of depressive symptoms, insecurity, and posttraumatic stress disorder, followed by adjustment/behavior problems and aggression, and declining academic performance. 

>> Link to full publication: https://doi.org/10.1001/JAMANETWORKOPEN.2022.48836

>> Read other Ifakara publications here: https://ihi.or.tz/publications/journals-paper/