Parent Cohabitation Puts Kids at Risk for Child Abuse

Parents who live with their boyfriends or girlfriends may be placing their children at risk for abuse.

“Cohabitation has become quite common,” according to Dr. Brad Wilcox, of the University of Virginia. “Most people think, ‘What’s the harm?’ The harm is we are increasing a pattern of relationships that is not good for children.

He and others have shown that children living with unrelated adults are 50 times more likely to die of inflicted injuries as children living with their biological parents. Girls whose parents are divorced are more likely to be sexually assaulted, whether they live with either their mother or father. A 1996 study showed that children of single parents have a 77 percent greater risk of being harmed by adults than children living with both parents.

The federal government does not keep statistics on how many child abuse deaths are linked to cohabitation.

“The field struggles with the balance between intrusion in private matters and awareness of significant risks to the child,” said Fred Wulczyn of the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall Center for Children.