The consequences of child maltreatment can be profound and may endure long after the abuse or neglect occurs. The effects can appear in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood, and may affect various aspects of an individual’s development (e.g., physical, cognitive, psychological, and behavioral). These effects range in consequence from minor physical injuries, low self-esteem, attention disorders, and poor peer relations to severe brain damage, extremely violent behavior, and death. While substantial evidence exists for the negative consequences of maltreatment, practitioners should be aware of the limitations of current research.
First, many research efforts have studied the effects of child maltreatment among individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, prison populations, mental health patients, or other clinical populations who may exhibit the most serious behavior problems and whose families often have had many other problems (e.g., poverty, parental substance abuse, domestic violence). Further, many early studies examining consequences did not compare outcomes among maltreated individuals with outcomes among individuals who had not experienced maltreatment. In addition, studies often rely on official records or self-reporting of current or past child maltreatment, both of which may undercount the true prevalence of maltreatment. Finally, the nature and extent of maltreatment are different for each child and family, and these differences may influence the consequences. Despite the above challenges, it is still possible to identify effects that have been more commonly associated with individuals who have experienced abuse and neglect. These effects are discussed in the sections that follow as they relate to three overlapping areas:
- Health and physical effects
- Intellectual and cognitive development
- Emotional, psychological, and behavioral consequences
While maltreated children have a higher risk of certain problems, it cannot be concluded that any given consequence will always occur. Not all children who have been maltreated will suffer severe consequences. A number of factors may influence the effects of maltreatment, including the child’s age and developmental status at the time of the maltreatment, as well as the type, the frequency, the duration, and the severity of the maltreatment and co-occurring problems. In addition, research has identified certain protective factors that mediate the effects of maltreatment. For more information on the Impact of Abuse visit these links: