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Research challenges ‘Cinderella effect’

A recent study has found the ‘Cinderella effect’ does not necessarily lead to higher rates of injury among children.

Cinderella effect refers to a psychological theory that states children with step-parents suffer higher rates of injury than those who are cared for by their biological parents. Catia Malvaso, a psychology PhD student from the University of Adelaide, examined the facts to test the theory.

During her study, Malvaso found it is not family structure that leads to a greater chance of kids getting hurt. Instead, there are other factors involved.

“Moving house was identified as a risk factor for child injury,” she said. “It might be that children who move often are required to change schools and friendship groups. Moving to a new neighbourhood can lead to families becoming disconnected, resulting in less community child supervision [neighbours looking out for children]. Children in any family were at an increased risk of injury if they moved frequently but children in stepfamilies were also more likely to regularly move.

Malvaso also identified alcoholism in parents as a factor that greatly increases the chances of a child being injured. She said parental alcoholism led to less supervision and poor parent-child relationships and is linked to children sustaining more injuries.

The research found that boys and children with behavioural difficulties suffered more injuries because they took more risks.

“Boys have been found to engage in more aggressive and hyperactive behaviour than girls, and therefore might be more likely to be impulsive or engage in active pursuits or risk-taking behaviours,” Malvaso said. “Children with behaviour problems are also more likely to get injured. Boys are more likely to have a behaviour problem like attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

The findings of this study are published in Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma. The next stage of the research is to analyse incidences of child injury in a broader range of family structures, including foster families, single-parent families and families with adopted children.

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