Objective: A cumulative risk model was used to examine the relationship among failure-to-thrive (FTT), maltreatment, and four aspects of children's development: cognitive performance (standardized testing), adaptive functioning at school, and classroom behavior (teacher report), and behavior at home (maternal report).
Method: The sample included 193 6-year-old children and their families, recruited from pediatric clinics serving inner-city, low-income, primarily African-American families, who were part of a longitudinal investigation of child development and maltreatment. Four risk groups were formed based on their growth and maltreatment history: neither FTT nor Maltreatment, FTT Only, Maltreatment Only, and both FTT and Maltreatment. FTT was defined as a deceleration in weight gain (weight-for-age below the 5th percentile) prior to 25 months of age among children born at term with birth weight appropriate for gestational age. Maltreatment was defined as having at least one report to CPS for neglect, physical abuse and/or sexual abuse.
Results: Risk status was negatively associated with each of the four developmental outcomes. Children with a history of both FTT and maltreatment had more behavior problems and worse cognitive performance and school functioning than children with neither risk factor. Children with only one risk factor (either FTT or maltreatment) achieved intermediate scores.
Conclusions: Findings support a cumulative risk model as being more detrimental to children's development than the presence of a single risk factor alone, consistent with theories linking the accumulation of environmental risks to negative consequences. These results underscore the importance of interventions to prevent both FTT and maltreatment during children's early years.