Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect

Many of our girls at Excelsior have been victims of child abuse and neglect, leading to short- and long-term consequences. Comprehensive treatment and support for these survivors is essential to help them to overcome the trauma associated with this abuse and go on to lead healthy, productive lives.

Child abuse can be psychological, physical, emotional, and/or sexual in nature. The impact of child abuse is often categorized into physical, psychological and behavioral consequences, but it’s important to note that these consequences are interrelated. It is impossible to separate the consequences that result from child abuse and neglect. For example, physical consequences often have psychological implications; psychological issues can then manifest as behavioral problems; high-risk behaviors can lead to further physical health problems. Each victim experiences this trauma different, and now matter how it manifests for the individual, their pain and suffering not be discounted. We must work together to support these victims and prevent further abuse from happening.

Physical Health Consequences
The immediate physical effects of abuse and neglect can range from relatively minor (cuts and bruises) to severe or even life-threatening (broken bones, concussions, starvation). In many cases, these immediate effects can lead to more long-term consequences and chronic health conditions. Studies have identified several physical health consequences common among child abuse and neglect victims.

• Impaired Brain Development: Studies have shown that child abuse and neglect prevent important regions of the brain to develop fully or correctly. These issues lead to long-term consequences for cognitive, language, and academic abilities, and even correlate with mental health disorders.

• Poor Physical Health: Child abuse and neglect not only leaves the child in poor physical condition immediately, but can also lead to long-term health conditions. Several studies have shown that adults who experienced abuse or neglect as a child are more likely to suffer from conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes later in life.

Psychological Consequences
Most children who are abused or neglected suffer from immediate psychological consequences such as fear or isolation, which often develop into long-term psychological conditions, including depression and anxiety.

• Cognitive Difficulties: Children who have suffered from child abuse and neglect are at risk for severe developmental and cognitive problems, such as low academic achievement and grade repetition.

• Poor Mental and Emotional Health: The emotional scarring of child abuse and neglect can be extensive and long-lasting. This trauma damages a child’s sense of sense, making them feel worthless or damaged and makes it difficult for them to regulate their emotions because they’ve never been able to express their emotions safely. Similarly, these victims often struggle with relationship difficulties as a result of fear and lack of trust. Furthermore, childhood trauma is a risk factor for many mental disorders such as borderline personality disorder, depression and anxiety.

Behavioral Consequences
Child abuse and neglect appears to make certain behavioral problems more likely. While not all victims experience behavioral problems, studies have shown certain issues are more common among this group. According to the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), more than half of youth reported for abuse or neglect suffer from an emotional or behavioral problem.

• Difficulties during Adolescence: Youth with histories of maltreatment are at risk for behavioral issues such as substance abuse, delinquency, truancy and pregnancy. Likewise, it is suggested that these children are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, increasing their chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

• Juvenile Delinquency and Adult Criminality: Reports document a correlation between child abuse and later juvenile delinquency and adult criminal activity. In fact, a history of child abuse increases a person’s likelihood of being arrested by 53% (Penn State University).

• Alcohol and Drug Abuse: Research consistently shows a correlation between childhood trauma and drug or alcohol abuse. Many use alcohol and drugs to numb the painful memories and feelings associated with the trauma.

• Abusive Behavior: Perhaps more shocking is the cyclical nature of child abuse and neglect. Many abusive parents experienced abuse themselves as a child. Violence is a learned behavior making it more likely for children who witness abuse growing up to repeat the abuse as an adult.

Although the causes of child abuse and neglect are complex, we can work together to break the cycle and reduce the likelihood of long-term consequences. Through raised awareness, prevention strategies, and support for victims, we can address the risk factors and work to prevent child abuse.

The priority will always be to prevent child abuse and neglect, but it is equally important to support the victims who have already suffered. Research suggests that supporting this individuals is most effective through trauma-informed practices – specific programming designed to address and respond to the impact of traumatic stress. For years, Excelsior Youth Center has used trauma-informed care to support our youth, which has proven very effective, especially in treating our trauma victims. For more information on trauma-informed care, click here.

For more information, please visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

April 2015 – Child Abuse Prevention Month #CAPmonth