Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

May 2007Vol. 8, No. 4Implications of Age at Onset of Child Maltreatment

The age at which a child first experiences abuse may predict the extent and type of psychological problems the child experiences as an adult. In fact, children who first experience abuse as preschoolers may be the most vulnerable to psychological problems as adults. This was the finding of a recent study that explored the association between age at onset of maltreatment and adult psychopathology.

Using court records from a metropolitan area in the Midwest, the study included 496 substantiated victims of child abuse and neglect that occurred when the children were 11 years old or younger. Researchers conducted follow-up interviews when the participants were approximately 30 years old, and again when they were 40 years old.

Results indicated that earlier onset of maltreatment predicted more symptoms of anxiety and depression in adulthood, while later onset of maltreatment predicted behavioral problems in adulthood. Maltreatment had the most significant impact when it occurred during the preschool years (ages 3–5 ), indicating that this may be a particularly sensitive developmental period. Implications for child abuse prevention efforts focusing on this age group are discussed.

The full study, “Age of Onset of Child Maltreatment Predicts Long-Term Mental Health Outcomes,” by Julie Kaplow and Cathy Spatz Widom, was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol 116(1), and can be purchased online: