Child Maltreatment: Consequences
Prevalence of Child Maltreatment
- An estimated 763,000 children were confirmed by Child Protective Services as being victims of maltreatment in 2009 (DHHS 2011).
- Based on a study using self- and parent reports, about 8,755,000 children were victims of child maltreatment during a one-year time frame (Finkelhor et al. 2005). This means that more than 1 out of 7 children between the ages of 2 and 17 experienced some form of maltreatment. This includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, neglect, and custodial interference or family abduction.
Consequences of Child Maltreatment
Most of the studies examining the consequences of child maltreatment have used a retrospective approach. This requires conducting studies to determine if any association exists between a history of childhood abuse and/or neglect and current health conditions in adults. Fewer research projects have employed a more rigorous longitudinal approach. This type of research strategy identifies children who are at risk or who have already been maltreated and follows them for a long period of time, sometimes decades, to see what conditions develop.
- In 2008, approximately 1,770 children across the country died from abuse or neglect—a rate of 2.34 deaths per 100,000 children (DHHS 2011).
- Maltreatment during infancy or early childhood can cause important regions of the brain to form and function improperly with long-term consequences on cognitive, language, and socioemotional development, and mental health (DHHS 2001). For example, the stress of chronic abuse may cause a "hyperarousal" response in certain areas of the brain, which may result in hyperactivity and sleep disturbances (Dallam 2001; Perry 2001).
- Children may experience severe or fatal head trauma as a result of abuse. Nonfatal consequences of abusive head trauma include varying degrees of visual impairment (e.g., blindness), motor impairment (e.g., cerebral palsy) and cognitive impairments (National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome 2009).
- Children who experience maltreatment are also at increased risk for adverse health effects and certain chronic diseases as adults, including heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, liver disease, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high levels of C-reactive protein (Felitti et al. 1998; Danese et al. 2009).
- In one long-term study, as many as 80 percent of young adults who had been abused met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21. These young adults exhibited many problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts (Silverman et al. 1996).
- In addition to physical and developmental problems, the stress of chronic abuse may result in anxiety and may make victims more vulnerable to problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, conduct disorder, and learning, attention, and memory difficulties (Dallam 2001; Perry 2001)
- Children who experience maltreatment are at increased risk for smoking, alcoholism, and drug abuse as adults, as well as engaging in high-risk sexual behaviors (Felitti et al. 1998; Runyan et al. 2002).
- Those with a history of child abuse and neglect are 1.5 times more likely to use illicit drugs, especially marijuana, in middle adulthood (Widom et al. 2006).
- Studies have found abused and neglected children to be at least 25 percent more likely to experience problems such as delinquency, teen pregnancy, and low academic achievement (Kelley et al. 1997). Similarly, a longitudinal study found that physically abused children were at greater risk of being arrested as juveniles. This same study also found that abused youth were less likely to have graduated from high school and more likely to have been a teen parent (Langsford et al. 2007). A National Institute of Justice study indicated that being abused or neglected as a child increased the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 59 percent. Abuse and neglect also increased the likelihood of adult criminal behavior by 28 percent and violent crime by 30 percent (Widom & Maxfield 2001).
- Early child maltreatment can have a negative effect on the ability of both men and women to establish and maintain healthy intimate relationships in adulthood (Colman et al. 2004).
Colman R, Widom C. Childhood abuse and neglect and adult intimate relationships: a prospective study. Child Abuse and Neglect 2004;28(11):1133–1151.
Dallam SJ. The long-term medical consequences of childhood maltreatment. In: Franey K, Geffner R, Falconer Reditors. The cost of child maltreatment: Who pays? We all do. San Diego (CA): Family Violence & Sexual Assault Institute; 2001.
Danese A, Moffitt TE, Harrington H, Milne BJ, Polanczyk G, Pariante CM, et al. Adverse childhood experiences and adult risk factors for age-related disease. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 2009;163(12):1135–1143.
Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. Child Maltreatment 2007 [online] 2009 [cited 2009 Apr 7].
Available from URL: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm07/index.htm
Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. Understanding the effects of maltreatment on early brain development. Washington (DC): Government Printing Office; 2001.
Available from URL: http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/focus/earlybrain/earlybrain.pdf [PDF 454 KB]
Felitti V, Anda R, Nordenberg D, Williamson D, Spitz A, Edwards V, et al. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. Am J of Preventive Medicine 1998;14(4):245–258.
Finkelhor D, Ormrod R, Turner H, Hamby S. The victimization of children and youth: a comprehensive national survey. Child Maltreatment 2005;10(1):5–25.
Kelley BT, Thornberry T P, Smith CA. In the wake of childhood maltreatment. Washington (DC): National Institute of Justice; 1997.
Langsford JE, Miller-Johnson S, Berlin LJ, Dodge KA, Bates JE, Pettit GS. Early physical abuse and later violent delinquency: a prospective longitudinal study. Child Maltreatment 2007;12(3):233–245.
National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. [online] 2009 [cited 2009 Apr 07].
Available from URL: http://www.dontshake.com
Perry BD. The neurodevelopmental impact of violence in childhood. In: Schetky D, Benedek E, editors. Textbook of child and adolescent forensic psychiatry. Washington (DC): American Psychiatric Press; 2001. p. 221–238.
Runyan D, Wattam C, Ikeda R, Hassan F, Ramiro L. Child abuse and neglect by parents and other caregivers. In: Krug E, Dahlberg LL, Mercy JA, Zwi AB, Lozano R, editors. World report on violence and health. Geneva,Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2002. p. 59–86.
Available from URL: http://www.who.int/violence_injury _prevention/violence/global_campaign/en/chap3.pdf [PDF 176 KB]
Silverman AB, Reinherz HZ, Giaconia RM. The long-term sequelae of child and adolescent abuse: a longitudinal community study. Child Abuse and Neglect 1996;20(8):709–723.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2010). Child Maltreatment 2009 [online].Cited 2011 May 1.
Available from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/index.htm#can.
Widom C, Marmorstein N, White H. Childhood victimization and illicit drug use in middle adulthood. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 2006;20(4):394–403.
Widom CS, Maxfield MG. An update on the "cycle of violence." Washington (DC): National Institute of Justice; 2001.
Available from URL: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/184894.pdf [PDF 128 KB]
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