A longitudinal study of the effects of chronic maltreatment on children's behavioral and emotional problems

Child Abuse Negl. 2004 Dec;28(12):1265-78. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2004.07.006.


Objective: The aim of the present longitudinal study was to examine the links between chronicity of maltreatment and child behavioral and emotional problems.

Method: Forty-nine maltreated children (32 victims of continuous, or chronic, maltreatment; 17 victims of transitory maltreatment) and their mothers were evaluated in their homes three times over a period of 6 years: at the time of recruitment (T1), 3 years following the initial evaluation (T2) and 6 years following the initial evaluation (T3). The home visits were designed to obtain longitudinal assessments of different types of behavioral and emotional problems in the children, and of the mothers' self-reported potential for abuse to help determine the chronic/transitory aspect of the maltreatment situation. Child Protection Services (CPS) files were also consulted at each assessment time in order to obtain more accurate information regarding the chronic/transitory aspect of the maltreatment situation.

Results: The results show that over time the victims of chronic maltreatment (Chronic group; CH) had significantly more emotional problems (i.e., Anxiety/Depression) than those victims of transitory maltreatment (Transitory group; TR). There was also a tendency for CH children to exhibit more aggressive behavior and social withdrawal problems than the children in the TR group. Furthermore, at T3, the proportion of children in the CH group showing a clinical level of behavior problems in general was significantly higher than in the TR group.

Conclusions: The study confirms that there are differences among maltreated children in levels of behavior and emotional problems and shows that chronicity must be taken into consideration in order to identify more clearly the impact of maltreatment on the child. Chronically maltreated children appear to be at high-risk for developing clinical levels of problems. The results also suggest that intervention efforts resulting in an improvement of the family situation (i.e., reduction or elimination of maltreatment), also lead to an improvement in the behavior of children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child Abuse / diagnosis
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / etiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease
  • Demography
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / etiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mood Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mood Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mood Disorders / etiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires