Predictors of child abuse potential in a sample of parents at risk of maltreatment: the role of epistemic trust, parenting stress, and parental representations

Sharim Ponticelli

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Theory and research suggest that parents who were abused as children are more likely to repeat abuse in the following generation. One model of explanation suggests that this cycle is partly owing to disruptions in the acquisition of mentalizing abilities, to low levels of epistemic trust and to further disruptions in mentalizing brought about by high parental stress observed in high-risk parents. The present study aimed to assess whether parental epistemic trust domains, parental risk representations and parental stress would associate with the risk of parental child abuse, using the Child Abuse Potential (CAP) Inventory. Secondary data analysis was conducted on baseline data collected as part of a parenting intervention aimed at reducing child maltreatment in high-risk parents. One hundred and ten parents with child protection service involvement were interviewed on the Parent Development Interview (Slade et al., 2004) about their views on themselves as parents, a specific child, and their relationship to that child. The transcripts were coded using the Assessment of Representational Risk (Sleed, Isosävi et al., 2021). Participants also completed measures assessing their epistemic trust, mistrust and credulity and their perceived parental stress levels. Adverse childhood experiences data collected at post intervention were also analysed. Epistemic trust showed a small, non-significant negative relationship to CAP, whilst higher levels of epistemic mistrust and credulity were significantly associated with higher levels of CAP. Higher risk in parental representations was also significantly associated with higher CAP. Last, parental stress showed a large, positive correlation to CAP. When analysed together only parental stress predicted CAP, and there was a trend of representational risk approaching significance as a CAP predictor. Overall, the findings suggest that parental stress is a salient factor in CAP and that parents’ epistemic stance, and parental representations may be relevant to CAP among high-risk parents with childhood histories of maltreatment. The results have implications for treatment models, social care, and future research.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Brown, Gary, Supervisor
  • Sleed, Michelle, Supervisor, External person
Award date1 Nov 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023


  • child abuse and neglect
  • child abuse potential
  • child abuse potential inventory
  • parental child abuse

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