A social network analysis of perpetrators of child maltreatment reported by youth in foster care

Amanda Bennett, Yo Jackson, Joy Gabrielli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Prior research on child maltreatment has focused on distinct features of maltreatment (type, severity, chronicity) important for youth outcomes, yet perpetrators of child maltreatment reported by youth have gone largely unstudied. The present study examines connections between perpetrators, the total number and type of perpetrators reported, and the frequency at which each type of perpetrator was reported across 24 relationship types to provide a foundation for future research seeking to provide comprehensive measurement of perpetrator profiles. Methods: Data from 503 youth in foster care (8–21 years old) were collected through the Studying Pathways to Adjustment and Resilience in Kids (SPARK) Project. Youth reported on their history of physical, sexual, and psychological maltreatment. Social Network Analysis (SNA) was used to visualize links between perpetrators within maltreatment type and paired samples t-tests were used to compare differences between network edge weights. Results: Full sample SNA results were highly interconnected and variable across maltreatment types. Biological parents and peers were the most common perpetrators of physical and psychological abuse with peers and non-family adults being most common for sexual abuse. Family and community member groupings were most distinct in the physical and psychological abuse networks whereas in the sexual abuse network, ties between perpetrators were more equidistant. Conclusions: Differences exist in perpetrator profiles across maltreatment types, adding a layer of complexity to how maltreatment experiences are captured, and variability in profiles might provide insight to differing youth outcomes. Understanding individual youth perpetrator profiles could be used to inform foster care placements and reduce the risk of revictimization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106432
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Nov 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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