Child maltreatment, child protection and mental health

Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2005 Jul;18(4):411-21. doi: 10.1097/01.yco.0000172061.93896.26.


Purpose of review: This review summarizes advances in our understanding of child maltreatment and the implications thereof for physical, psychological and social development, with special emphasis on mental health aspects.

Recent findings: Methodological problems persist. These may be related in part to an over-emphasis on type of maltreatment, to the detriment of consideration of degree and extent of maltreatment. They may also be related to inadequate application of a comprehensive model of maltreatment and its consequences. Recent studies underline the inter-relatedness and cross-over between different types of child maltreatment and family violence. Research also underlines the extent to which child maltreatment is a major public health crisis internationally. Effects are seen on physical health and development as well as mental health, and it is becoming increasingly evident that these outcomes are inextricably linked to one another. There are encouraging signs that certain interventions are effective.

Summary: There is a need for a more sophisticated model of child maltreatment that includes not only degree but also the extent to which basic developmental needs are overridden when children are maltreated, and that includes children's responses to maltreatment as a mediating influence. More studies are needed of samples of children who have been maltreated in order to gain a better understanding of how maltreatment distorts the trajectory of normal development. Crucially, we need more research on intervention, including both case management and psychological treatment approaches.