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.


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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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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