Abuse and Neglect: Psychological Consequences

This information was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway

Psychological Consequences

The immediate emotional effects of abuse and neglect—isolation, fear, and an inability to trust—can translate into lifelong psychological consequences, including low self-esteem, depression, and relationship difficulties. Researchers have identified links between child abuse and neglect and the following:

Difficulties during infancy

Of children entering foster care in 2010, 16 percent were younger than 1 year. When infants and young children enter out-of-home care due to abuse or neglect, the trauma of a primary caregiver change negatively affects their attachments (ACF/OPRE, 2012a). Nearly half of infants in foster care who have experienced maltreatment exhibit some form of cognitive delay and have lower IQ scores, language difficulties, and neonatal challenges compared to children who have not been abused or neglected (ZERO TO THREE, 2011).

Poor mental and emotional health

Experiencing childhood trauma and adversity, such as physical or sexual abuse, is a risk factor for borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders. One study using ACE data found that roughly 54 percent of cases of depression and 58 percent of suicide attempts in women were connected to adverse childhood experiences (Felitti & Anda, 2009). Child maltreatment also negatively impacts the development of emotion regulation, which often persists into adolescence or adulthood (Messman- Morre, Walsh, & DiLillo, 2010).

Cognitive difficulties

NSCAW researchers found that children with substantiated reports of maltreatment were at risk for severe developmental and cognitive problems, including grade repetition (ACF/OPRE, 2012b). In its final report on the second NSCAW study (NSCAW II), more than 10 percent of school-aged children and youth showed some risk of cognitive problems or low academic achievement, 43 percent had emotional or behavioral problems, and 13 percent had both (ACF/OPRE, 2011).

Social difficulties

Children who experience neglect are more likely to develop antisocial traits as they grow up. Parental neglect is associated with borderline personality disorders, attachment issues or affectionate behaviors with unknown/little-known people, inappropriate modeling of adult behavior, and aggression (Perry, 2012).

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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.