• September 2014
  • Vol. 15, No. 8

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The Physical, Mental Effects of Child Abuse

A new report and accompanying two-page brief from the Society for Research and Child Development provide an overview of research on the physical and mental effects of child maltreatment on children's biological systems and brain development. The effects of abuse on children's health into adulthood and the importance delivering comprehensive, integrated intervention and treatment services also is discussed. In addition to outlining facts about the occurrence and recurrence of child abuse and neglect in the United States, the report and brief also provide policy and practice implications.

The report notes that research has provided a better understanding of the effects of maltreatment on a child's psychobiological functioning. The authors classify maltreatment as a toxic stressor, "chronic and uncontrollable events that result in sustained activation of the body's stress management system." When the body is exposed to toxic stressors during critical times, such as early childhood development, there is a negative impact on the functioning of three important systems: (1) the immune system, (2) the neuroendocrine system, and (3) the central nervous system. Because the effects of maltreatment can become biologically embedded, the authors suggest treatment practices include universal mental health screening and evidence-based behavioral therapies specific to those who have experienced trauma.

The full report, The Biological Embedding of Child Abuse and Neglect: Implications for Policy and Practice, is available here:

http://www.srcd.org/sites/default/files/spr_28_1_final.pdf (761 KB)

The two-page brief, Social Policy Report Brief: How Abuse and Neglect Affect Children's Minds and Bodies, is available here:

http://www.srcd.org/sites/default/files/documents/washington/spr_brief_2014_06_03_childmaltreatment.pdf (551 KB)

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