Associate 2010-11

Wendy Lea Haight

Social Work

Violent Girls from Rural, Methamphetamine-involved Families

The abuse of methamphetamine is a persistent public health, criminal justice, and child welfare problem, especially in rural areas. Many children whose parents misuse methamphetamine are exposed to adult polysubstance misuse, physical violence, and sexual abuse. As a result, many show clinically significant mental health and behavior problems — including physical aggression, one of the best-known social predictors of children’s concurrent and future maladjustment.

With previous funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Professor Haight assembled and did preliminary analysis of a dataset that includes in-depth interviews, standardized mental health assessments, and home observations of 41 school-aged children from methamphetamine-involved families and 18 of their parents. During her Center appointment she will analyze the data more deeply.

One area she will focus on is the children’s experiences and understanding of physical aggression. Most of the children, both boys and girls, reported disturbing exposure to adult violence and substance misuse, as well as participation in episodes of physical aggression. Contrary to earlier research, significantly more girls (75%) than boys (32%) scored in the clinical range on standardized measures of externalizing behaviors (i.e., aggressive and rule-breaking behaviors). One possible explanation for this gender difference is that girls experienced more sexual abuse, which can be a precursor to girls’ aggressive behavior.

By better understanding these girls’ experiences and interpretations of physical violence, along with their families’ physical and social contexts, Professor Haight contributes to the development of effective interventions that can end the intergenerational transmission of family violence, substance abuse, and mental health disorders.