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Study summarised:

The Long-Term Health Consequences of Child Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, and Neglect: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

The summary:

This study reports on the devastating short and long term impact of non-sexual child maltreatment, such as emotional and physical abuse, and neglect.

This study is a systematic review and meta-analysis of 124 included studies. This means that the authors have conducted a systematic search of the literature to identify relevant empirical studies that reported on impact of non-sexual maltreatment.

  • This form of research is reliable as it does not only draw conclusions on one study, but on studies that were conducted all over the world, including South Africa.
  • The authors screened 9 798 published papers and used inclusion and exclusion criteria and a quality appraisal system to ensure that the 124 articles that they synthesised are of good quality.

The significant findings are:

  • There is an association between exposure to child physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect and adverse health outcomes.
  • Children who are physically abused; emotional abused and neglected have a higher risk than non-abused children of:
  • developing depressive disorders; anxiety disorders; conduct disorders; eating disorders; suicidal behaviour contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and/or practising risky sexual behaviour; and having arthritis, ulcers, and headache/migraine in adulthood
  • Some studies suggest a “dose–response relationship” – thus the frequency of exposure or co-occurrence of more than one type of child maltreatment have an effect on the occurrence of the negative outcomes.

Gender differences were also reported. For example the effect of physical abuse on alcohol problems was stronger among males, whilst females were at an increased risk of alcohol problem drinking due to exposure to neglect in childhood.

For example: (please read the article for more examples)

  • The study found that those experiencing more severe non-sexual maltreatment were at greater risk of developing mental disorders than those experiencing less severe maltreatment.
  • depression is more likely with frequent neglect compared with neglect that occurred only sometimes in childhood;
  • anxiety disorders are more likely to occur with frequent physical abuse than with abuse that occurred only sometimes in childhood;
  • Bulimia nervosa occurred more likely with more severe and repeated physical;
  • Obesity is a significantly increased risk for physical and emotional abuse but not for neglect.

Caution

  • It is important to always acknowledge that lifestyle factors, access to health care, and community characteristics, genetic influences, and family and individual resilience protective processes may act as mediators between the child maltreatment and long-term health consequences.

How can you relate this to practice?

  • Prevention is better than cure – The awareness of the serious long-term negative outcomes of non-sexual child maltreatment should encourage better identification of those at risk and the development of effective interventions to protect children and their parents and caregivers from violence. Prevention is vital. Prevention is better than cure.
  • Early intervention is imperative: It is a risk to leave a child in an environment where he/or she may be subjected to prolonged child maltreatment.
  • Re adult clients who are often parents in your case load. They may present with some of these health outcomes due to exposure to child maltreatment in childhood. They need your understanding and willingness to help them to overcome their childhood adversities. Create a space and presence for them to disclose their traumatic experience and implement interventions.
  • You can use these findings to motivate the opening of children’s court inquiries and/or motivate why intervention is imperative prior to placing child back in the care of a potentially harmful environment.