Chronic Child Abuse Strong Indicator of Negative Adult Experiences
ScienceDaily (May 15, 2012) — Child abuse or neglect are strong predictors of major health and emotional problems, but little is known about how the chronicity of the maltreatment may increase future harm apart from other risk factors in a child's life.
In a new study published in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics, Melissa Jonson-Reid, PhD, child welfare expert and a professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, looked at how chronic maltreatment impacted the future health and behavior of children and adults.
The study tracked children by number of child maltreatment reports (zero to four or more) and followed the children into early adulthood, by which time some of the children had become parents.
The study sought to determine how well the number of child maltreatment reports predicted poor outcomes in adolescence, such as delinquency, substance abuse in the teen years or getting a sexually transmitted disease.
"For every measure studied, a more chronic history of child maltreatment reports was powerfully predictive of worse outcomes," Jonson-Reid says.
"For most outcomes, having a single maltreatment report put children at a 20 percent to 50 percent higher risk than non-maltreated comparison children....
In models of adult outcomes, children with four or more reports were about least twice as likely to later abuse their own children and have contact with the mental health system, even when controlling for the negative outcomes during adolescence." Jonson-Reid says that there appears to be good reason to put resources into preventing ongoing maltreatment.
"Successfully interrupting chronic child maltreatment may well reduce risk of a wide range of other costly child and adolescent health and behavioral problems," she says.
Jonson-Reid cites a recently published Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study estimating lifetime costs for a single year's worth of children reported for maltreatment at $242 billion....
The study also found that maltreatment predicts a range of negative adolescent outcomes, and those adolescent outcomes then predict poor adult outcomes.
Child and Adult Outcomes of Chronic Child Maltreatment
Melissa Jonson-Reid, PhD, Patricia L. Kohl, PhD, and Brett Drake, PhD
....RESULTS: Child maltreatment chronicity predicted negative childhood outcomes in a linear fashion (eg, percentage with at least 1 negative outcome: no maltreatment = 29.7%, 1 report = 39.5%, 4 reports = 67.1%). Suicide attempts before age 18 showed the largest proportionate increase with repeated maltreatment (no report versus 4+ reports = +625%, P < .0001). The dose-response relationship was reduced once controls for other adverse child outcomes were added in multivariate models of child maltreatment perpetration and mental health issues. The relationship between adult substance abuse and maltreatment report history disappeared after controlling for adverse child outcomes.
CONCLUSIONS: Child maltreatment chronicity as measured by official reports is a robust indicator of future negative outcomes across a range of systems, but this relationship may desist for certain adult outcomes once childhood adverse events are controlled. Although primary and secondary prevention remain important approaches, this study suggests that enhanced tertiary prevention may pay high dividends across a range of medical and behavioral domains.