Abuse and Neglect: Behavioral Consequences

This information was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway

Behavioral Consequences

Not all victims of child abuse and neglect will experience behavioral consequences. However, behavioral problems appear to be more likely among this group. According to NSCAW, more than half of youth reported for maltreatment are at risk for an emotional or behavioral problem (ACF/OPRE, 2012b). Child abuse and neglect appear to make the following more likely:

Difficulties during adolescence

NSCAW data show that more than half of youth with reports of maltreatment are at risk of grade repetition, substance abuse, delinquency, truancy, or pregnancy (ACF/ OPRE, 2012b). Other studies suggest that abused or neglected children are more likely to engage in sexual risk-taking as they reach adolescence, thereby increasing their chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Victims of child sexual abuse also are at a higher risk for rape in adulthood, and the rate of risk increases according to the severity of the child sexual abuse experience(s) (Felitti & Anda, 2009; Messman-Morre, Walsh, & DiLillo, 2010).

Juvenile delinquency and adult criminality

Several studies have documented the correlation between child abuse and future juvenile delinquency. Children who have experienced abuse are nine times more likely to become involved in criminal activities (Gold, Wolan Sullivan, & Lewis, 2011).

Alcohol and other drug abuse

Research consistently reflects an increased likelihood that children who have experienced abuse or neglect will smoke cigarettes, abuse alcohol, or take illicit drugs during their lifetime. In fact, male children with an ACE Score of 6 or more (having six or more adverse childhood experiences) had an increased likelihood—of more than 4,000 percent—to use intravenous drugs later in life (Felitti & Anda, 2009).

Abusive behavior

Abusive parents often have experienced abuse during their own childhoods. Data from the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health showed that girls who experienced childhood physical abuse were 1–7 percent more likely to become perpetrators of youth violence and 8–10 percent more likely to be perpetrators of interpersonal violence (IPV). Boys who experienced childhood sexual violence were 3–12 percent more likely to commit youth violence and 1–17 percent more likely to commit IPV (Xiangming & Corso, 2007).

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Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.