An Epidemiological Study of Children Exposure to Violence in the Fragile Families Study

A large body of research shows that children raised in low-income families are exposed to more violence than children raised in high-income families, including neighborhood violence, domestic violence and parental violence, also referred to as ‘harsh parenting.’ Violence, in turn, is known to be associated with children’s mental health and human capital development. 

This report summarizes what we have learned from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study about the prevalence, predictors and consequences of children’s exposure to 1) neighborhood violence, 2) intimate partner violence (IPV), and 3) harsh parenting.

By identifying violence as a threat to the public’s mental health and recognizing the role of mental health challenges in increasing the risk for both victimization and perpetration of violence, the need to address violence in its varied forms becomes clear. Below are some of the over-arching action steps listed in the report that should be considered.

  • Funding more research with diverse populations into the causes of violence
  • Supporting policies to help vulnerable populations access mental health services, prevent violence, and improve cultural competency of mental health care providers
  • Training and hiring more qualified people from vulnerable communities to be counselors and educators
  • Coordinating care across different sectors -- including housing, education and workforce -- to reflect the interconnections between types of violence and the common stressors that increase risk

Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Illustration.

"As we work as a foundation to develop our strategy for overcoming our culture of violence and trauma—in pursuit of a Culture of Health—this study (and others) makes it clear that we will only be able to help reduce exposure to violence in early childhood if we simultaneously work to support parents to increase their own sense of security and safety." says Program Officer Martha Davis. "In other words, we are confident that strengthening families will decrease children’s exposure to violence and promote their flourishing."

We encourage you to review the recommendations resulting from the study, and ask you to share your thoughts on the RWJF forum and suggestions in response to the following:

  • What needs to be done to break down the silos that exist between those working on community violence, domestic violence and parenting support?
  • What examples are there of models, programs or strategies that already are breaking down these silos?
  • What additional research needs to be done to further strengthen the argument that an integrated approach is what is needed?
  • What can the Foundation do to help strengthen vulnerable children and their families?


"Our review presents a disturbing picture of the role of violence in the lives of vulnerable families. Violence is endemic, as documented by high levels of neighborhood violence and concerns about safety, mothers’ exposure to multiple types of domestic violence and children’s exposure to harsh parenting. Moreover, the studies we reviewed provide a good descriptive picture of how these different types of violence are related to one another."

Fragile Families