Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Human Development and Family Studies

Department name when degree awarded

Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Committee Chair(s)

Brent C. Miller


Brent C. Miller


Eddy Berry


Thorana Nelson


Randy Jones


Tom Lee


Natural and technological disasters impact thousands of families in the United States each year. Catastrophic events leave homelessness, unemployment, injury, and death in their wake. The cost to society is usually measured in homes destroyed, jobs lost, casualties, and expected dollar expense of recovery. There are the social, psychological, and family consequences of catastrophic stressors. Anecdotal reports suggest that among these consequences is an increase in family violence, including child abuse. This dissertation tests the hypotheses that reported and confirmed child abuse increases in the wake of natural disasters.

Child Protective Services (CPS) records of several jurisdictions that have experienced natural disasters during the past decade were examined. Data were collected from counties in South Carolina impacted by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, counties in California affected by the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, and parishes in Louisiana impacted by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The numbers of reports and confirmations for a one-year period following each of these events were compared with those for the year prior to the disaster.

Analyses of these data indicated statistically significant increases in child abuse reports during the first 6 months following Hurricane Hugo and the Lama Prieta Earthquake, but showed no statistically significant change following Hurricane Andrew.

The study concluded that reactions to natural disasters vary for a number of different reasons. The findings from California and South Carolina indicated that there are changes in patterns of reporting and/or confirmation of child abuse following catastrophes. CPS workers in each of the impacted areas were interviewed to obtain their impressions regarding the extent and causes of these changes in reporting and substantiation.

Recommendations that governmental and social service agencies dedicate resources and develop programs to address this specific problem following catastrophes were included. Future research that replicates this study and the development of methodologies that do not depend on official reports and investigations were recommended.