Objective: Previous research has suggested that child maltreatment is associated with poor school performance. However, previous studies have largely been cross-sectional or, if longitudinal, have had small sample sizes, short follow-up periods, or have not adequately controlled for confounders. The objective of this study is to determine the relationship between child maltreatment and school performance in a cohort of children at risk of maltreatment and followed since birth.
Method: This prospective study followed children born at risk for maltreatment with semi-annual reviews of the North Carolina Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect. At ages six and eight years, children's teachers were surveyed using the Achenbach Teacher Report Form and project-developed questions regarding peer status. This information, along with control variables from maternal interviews, was used in logistic regression models to determine the impact of maltreatment on academic performance, peer status, and adaptive functioning. The generalized estimating equations (GEE) method was applied to adjust variance estimates for within-person correlations of school performance measures at two points in time.
Results: A substantiated maltreatment report is significantly associated with poorer academic performance (p < 0.01) and poorer adaptive functioning (p < 0.001) but not with peer status.
Conclusions: Understanding the consequences of maltreatment, including poor academic performance and adaptive functioning, is important in planning educational, health, and social service interventions that may help abused or neglected children succeed in school and later in life. Longitudinal analysis is the best way to establish a causal relationship between maltreatment and subsequent school problems.