Child abuse, whether intentional or through ignorant behaviors by parents, other adults, and caregivers, are a leading cause of emotional and physical harm to children and young people. Child abuse is a global problem that has a wide range of consequences for children. For example there is research that shows that an increased risk of child neglect and abuse is associated with neurodivergent conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Higher rates of abuse are found among children with ADHD when it is compared to children without an ADHD diagnosis. According to clinics that offer ADHD treatment, treatment for ADHD can include using medication, learning coping skills, having a good sleep, good nutrition, following a routine, and being praised by your loved ones.
Children respond differently to similar experiences of child abuse and neglect and the effect of child abuse and neglect can be chronic or debilitating for certain children while others might experience lower adverse outcomes. The positive and negative experiences in the life of a child can impact the vulnerability and resilience of that child.
A critical factor that influences the way a child reacts to neglect and abuse is the duration and frequency of the maltreatment. Research shows that children that experience maltreatment can experience trauma.
More factors that can affect the consequences experienced by a child from child abuse and neglect include:
- The age at which the maltreatment occurs.
- The type of child abuse
- The seriousness of child abuse or neglect
- The relationship between the victim and the perpetrator.
Factors that contribute to the resilience of a child include self-esteem, parenting quality, independence, extra-familial resources, the school environment, and quality peer relationships. The trauma and stress caused by the effect of child abuse and neglect affect the brain development of a child and the chronic trauma caused by abuse and neglect results in psychological problems that are persistent.
Common problems in socially neglected children
- Interpersonal relationship problems: The attachment of a caregiver is important in the emotional and social development of a child. Children that are abused are likely to be insecure. A caregiver is meant to provide safety, comfort, and protection. Children also find it hard to trust others when they are abused or neglected. Insecure attachments can affect the ability of a child to form a healthy relationship. It can impact the communication and interaction ability of the child.
- Learning problems: Socially neglected children have been known to have learning difficulties and poor academic performance. Abuse and neglect can affect the development capacities of children especially in areas of language and speech. Research has shown that abused children have higher rates of juvenile delinquency.
- Mental health problems: There are links between mental health problems and child abuse. Maltreated children that experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are often found to experience other disorders such as substance abuse, adjustment disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mood disorders, and psychotic disorders. Eating disorders also have connections to child abuse.
- Suicide: Child abuse increases the rate of suicidal acts. There is a strong link between suicide or attempted suicide and physical or sexual abuse. Child abuse by a caregiver more often than not leads to suicidal thoughts in children. Sexual abuse is at times related to suicidal behavior because it is associated with shame and blame.
- Substance abuse: Child abuse and neglect lead to substance abuse. All types of child maltreatment are linked to high levels of substance use such as tobacco, illicit drugs, and alcohol.
Other problems experienced by socially neglected children include:
- Aggression and violence: Children that are exposed to abuse and neglect have a high probability of inflicting pain on others. Victims of child abuse are known to develop violent and aggressive tendencies. There are studies that link child abuse and criminal behavior.
- Teenage pregnancy: Risky sexual behavior and teenage pregnancy are associated with child abuse and neglect. Women exposed to child sexual abuse have a higher rate of teenage pregnancy or contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Teenage pregnancies and STDs are more often than not caused by sexual abuse.
- Sexual abuse is a great contributor to teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. They are also more vulnerable and have a high rate of having multiple sexual partners.
- Homelessness: Research shows that children may encounter homelessness due to child abuse and neglect.
The warning signs, causes, and consequences of child abuse and neglect are to be understood by all caregivers.