Maltreatment in Early childhood May Impair Development

Wednesday, 6 September 2017: Researchers from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and UNSW, in collaboration with the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS), have shown that children exposed to maltreatment before age 5 years showed a greater likelihood of developmental vulnerabilities in their early childhood years, relative to non-maltreated children. 

The study led by Associate Professor Melissa Green used data from 68,000 children in NSW, of whom 2000 had been exposed to substantiated reports of maltreatment between the period of birth to five years of age.

Assoc Prof Green identified the early life period (before age five years) is one of rapid brain development, making it highly sensitive to stress.

“Exposure to maltreatment during this period where brain elasticity is at its peak may critically impair developmental achievements and learning opportunities, with potential ramifications for cognitive and educational outcomes, as well as social development,” said Assoc Prof Green.

“Further longitudinal research is needed to determine the effects of particular combinations of maltreatment, and/or chronic maltreatment, on the developmental functioning of these vulnerable children and their families.”

The study observed increased associations with developmental vulnerabilities when children were exposed to multiple types of maltreatment. Of the 2000 with substantiated maltreatment reports, over 22% had experienced more than one type of maltreatment.

The research will be key in helping FACS to shape early intervention strategies and services provided to vulnerable children and their families.

This study marks the beginning of a longitudinal study of this population of children which will identify how maltreatment in early childhood can impact mental health and wellbeing over the life course.


Media: Katrina Usman