Abuse and Neglect: Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development Summary and Resources

This information was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway’'


In 2007, approximately 794,000 children were determined to be victims of abuse and/ or neglect (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009), but it is likely that many more children are actually suffering under adverse conditions. These children already may have suffered damage to their growing brains, and this damage may affect their ability to learn, form healthy relationships, and lead healthy, positive lives.

One lesson we have learned from the research on brain development is that environment has a powerful influence on development. Stable, nurturing caregivers and knowledgeable, supportive professionals can have a significant impact on these children’s development. Focusing on preventing child abuse and neglect, helping to strengthen families, and ensuring that children receive needed services are some of the most important tasks we can undertake.


Ackerman, S. J. (2007). The brain in adult life and normal aging—The Dana Guide. Retrieved August 2009 from the Dana Foundation website at http://www.dana.org/news/brainhealth/detail.aspx?id=10058

Applegate, J. S., & Shapiro, J. R. (2005). Neurobiology for clinical social work theory and practice. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. Retrieved August 2009 from http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/ACE/index.htm

Chamberlain, L. B. (2009). The amazing teen brain: What every child advocate needs to know. Child Law Practice, 28(2), 1-2, 22-24.

Child Trauma Academy. (n.d.). The amazing human brain and human development. Retrieved June 2009 from http://www.childtraumaacademy.com/amazing_brain/index.html

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2007). Addressing the needs of young children in child welfare: Part C—early intervention services. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved July 2009 from http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/partc/

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2008). What is child abuse and neglect Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved July 2009 from http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/whatiscan.cfm Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption and Dependent Care. (2000). Developmental issues for young children in foster care. Pediatrics, 106(5), 1145-1150.

Cook, A., Spinazzola, J., Ford, J., Lanktree, C., Blaustein, M., Sprague, C., et al. (2005). Complex trauma in children and adolescents. Psychiatric Annals, 35(5), 390- 398.

Healy, J. M. (2004). Your child’s growing mind: Brain development and learning from birth to adolescence. New York: Broadway Books.

National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. (2009). Physical consequences of shaking. Retrieved June 2009 from http://www.dontshake.org/sbs.php?topNavID=3&subNavID=23

National Institute of Mental Health. (2001). Teenage brain: A work in progress (Fact Sheet). Retrieved May 2009 from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teenage-brain-a-work-in-progress-fact-sheet/index.shtml

Perry, B. D. (2000a). The neuroarcheology of childhood maltreatment: The neurodevelopmental costs of adverse childhood events. Child Trauma Academy. Retrieved June 2009 from http://www.childtrauma.com

Perry, B.D. (2000b). Traumatized children: How childhood trauma influences brain development. Child Trauma Academy. Retrieved June 2009 from http://www.childtrauma.org/CTAMATERIALS/trau_CAMI.asp

Perry, B. D. (2001). The neurodevelopmental impact of violence in childhood. In D. Schetky & E. Benedek (Eds.), Textbook of child and adolescent forensic psychiatry (pp. 221-238). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.

Perry, B. D. (2002). Childhood experience and the expression of genetic potential: What childhood neglect tells us about nature and nurture. Brain and Mind, 3, 79-100.

Perry, B. D. (2006). Applying principles of neurodevelopment to clinical work with maltreated and traumatized children: The neurosequential model of therapeutics. In N. B. Webb (Ed.), Working with traumatized youth in child welfare (pp. 27-52). New York: The Guilford Press.

Putnam, F. W. (2006). The impact of trauma on child development. Juvenile and Family Court Journal. National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Retrieved June 2009 from http://www.ncjfcj.org/images/stories/dept/publications/winter%2006_putnam.pdf

Rutter, M., O’Connor, T., Beckett, C., Castle, J., Croft, C., Dunn, J., et al. (2000). Recovery and deficit following profound early deprivation. In P. Selman (Ed.), Intercountry adoption: Developments, trends and perspectives (pp. 89-107). London: British Agencies for Adoption & Fostering.

Scannapieco, M. (2008). Developmental outcomes of child neglect. The APSAC Advisor, Winter. Elmhurst, IL: American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.

Shonkoff, J. P., & Phillips, D. A. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Stien, P. T., & Kendall, J. (2004). Psychological trauma and the developing brain: Neurologically based interventions for troubled children. New York: The Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press.

Teicher, M.D. (2000). Wounds that time won’t heal: The neurobiology of child abuse. Cerebrum: The Dana Forum on brain science, 2(4), 50-67.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2009). Child maltreatment, 2007. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. Retrieved May 2009 from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm07/cm07.pdf

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau. (2009). Strengthening families and communities: 2009 resource guide. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved June 2009 from http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/res_guide_2009

ZERO TO THREE. (2009). Brain development: Frequently asked questions. Retrieved May 2009 from http://www.zerotothree.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ter_key_brainFAQ

Highlighted Resources

Child welfare professionals may find these resources particularly helpful:

Center on the Developing Child

Founded and directed by Jack Shonkoff, M.D., the Center publishes and links to research on early brain development, learning, and behavior and applying that knowledge to policies and practices. http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC website offers several publications that promote Safe, Stable, and Nurturing Relationships to prevent child maltreatment. CDC also sponsors the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study. http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/childmaltreatment/index.html http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/ACE/index.htm

Child Trauma Academy

This website offers free online courses and other trainings on early brain development and the impact of maltreatment. A wide variety of other resources also are available through the website, including books and articles by Bruce Perry, M.D., and other experts in the field. http://www.childtrauma.org/

From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development

This book was written in 2000 by a committee of experts (Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development, J. P. Shonkoff and D. A. Phillips, eds). Not only does it pull together the findings of neurobiology, but the authors explore what the findings suggest for society in terms of how we can nurture and protect our young children.

Healing Trauma: Attachment, Mind, Body, and Brain (M. F. Solomon and D. J. Siegel, Editors)

This book covers both the development and treatment of trauma, including attachment trauma.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

This federally funded initiative is a collaboration of academic and community-based service centers whose mission is to “raise the standard of care and improve access to services for traumatized children.” The website includes an extensive list of factsheets of promising practices for treating child trauma. http://www.nctsnet.org/nccts/nav.do?pid=ctr_top_trmnt_prom


This national nonprofit organization offers resources, training, and support for professionals and parents of young children. The online Baby Brain Map is a useful tool for showing how brain development parallels baby behavior. http://www.zerotothree.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ter_util_babybrainflash

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Child Welfare Information Gateway. Available online at http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issue_briefs/brain_development/