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The Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect



Generally, along with physical abuse and neglect, children also can experience emotional, verbal, and mental physical abuse and neglect. Children can experience different reactions to abuse or neglect, which can have a lifelong impact that can continue throughout different generations within the family. Child abuse and neglect can be linked to later physical, psychological, and behavioral consequences. These consequences may be independent of each other or they may be interrelated. For example, childhood abuse and neglect can affect the brain and lead to psychological problems such as low self-esteem, withdrawal, substance abuse, and various problems that can occur. The outcomes for each child can vary and depends on a combination of factors, which includes consideration of the child’s age and developmental status when child abuse and neglect occurred and the frequency, duration, and severity of abuse and neglect.


Child abuse and neglect also has been associated with certain regions of the brain being unable to function or grow properly. This includes the following: the amygdala, which is key to processing emotions; the hippocampus, which is central to learning and memory; the orbitofrontal cortex, which is responsible for reinforcement-based decision-making and emotion regulation; the cerebellum, which helps coordinate motor behavior and executive functioning; and the corpus callosum, which is responsible for left brain/right brain communication and other processes (e.g., arousal, emotion, higher cognitive abilities).


Children who experienced abuse or neglect can develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which includes persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic events related to the abuse such as avoiding people, places, and events that are associated with child abuse and neglect, as well as feelings of fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame, irritability, or other changes in mood. PTSD in children can also lead to depression, suicidal behavior, substance use, and oppositional or defiant behaviors which can continue into adulthood, that affect their ability to achieve in school and work and creating and nurturing important relationships.


Child abuse and neglect can have devastating and long-lasting effects on a child and can result in impacts on society, which include an increased need for services such as mental health therapist, juvenile and criminal justice systems, and etc. Certain techniques in the therapy session can be utilized to process child abuse and neglect such as Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and Brainspotting to name a couple of them. We all can help to address child abuse and neglect and even do as much as possible to prevent it. Evidence-basis and supports can promote protective factors to provide families and communities with support can make steps to lessen the impact of child abuse and neglect. For additional information and source on child abuse and neglect, please refer to Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect (childwelfare.gov).




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