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The Effects of Abuse and Neglect in Children

Expertly reviewed by Jessica Espanto, LPT, MA, RPsy · Psychology · In Touch Community Services

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jul 29, 2022

    The Effects of Abuse and Neglect in Children

    Innumerable studies show that abuse and neglect negatively affect a child’s growth and development. Here’s what you need to know about the effects of child maltreatment and things you can do to help.

    The types of child abuse

    Often, when we picture an abused child, we imagine a small body with bruises. However, physical abuse is just one type of child maltreatment. Below are the four types of child abuse:

    • Physical abuse entails hurting or injuring a child. While many cases of physical abuse leave visible marks from burning, hitting, choking, and using restraints, other forms, like shaking and smothering, don’t always leave a mark.
    • Sexual abuse indicates that an adult overpowers a child and involves them in any form of sexual activity.
    • Emotional abuse means the child has been treated in ways that negatively impact their intellectual, social, and emotional development. It could include rejection, criticism, isolation, or name-calling.
    • Neglect involves not giving the child their basic needs, like clothing, food, personal hygiene, shelter, and supervision.

    According to the World Health Organization, the abuse and neglect a child under the age of 18 experiences is called child maltreatment.

    The effects of child maltreatment on physical health

    The physical effects of child maltreatment are often immediate. Depending on how an adult hurts a child, you might see bruises, restraint marks, or even open wounds.

    However, experts say child maltreatment can also result in future health problems, like:

    • Arthritis
    • Back problems
    • Cancer
    • Diabetes
    • Lung diseases
    • High blood pressure
    • Heart attack
    • Malnutrition
    • Migraine headaches
    • Stroke

    The effects of child maltreatment on emotional health

    A child who experiences abuse and neglect may develop poor mental and emotional health. They are at a higher risk of anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric disorders.

    Reports also mentioned that adults who had adverse childhood experienced had a higher incidence of suicide attempts than those who did not.

    Besides poor mental and emotional health, the negative effects of childhood maltreatment could also include:

    • Diminished cognitive skills. They might have impaired self-control, working memory, or reduced capacity to pay attention and learn.
    • Problems in attachment and social difficulties. Abuse and neglect could likewise lead to problems in forming peer, social, and romantic relationships.
    • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The effects of child maltreatment often involve PTSD, where they “re-experience” the abuse through flashbacks or dreams. Oftentimes, people with PTSD become hypervigilant as a defense mechanism against any potential threats around them, even if they are in a relatively safe environment.

    the effects of child maltreatment

    The long-term effects of child maltreatment on social behavior

    Even after the maltreatment ends, children who experienced it might have unhealthy or risky behaviors that could harm them and the people around them.

    For instance, child maltreatment might trigger:

    • Unsafe sexual practices
    • Alcohol and other substance abuse
    • Juvenile delinquency, which can turn to children involved in crime
    • Perpetration of abuse to other people

    Most, if not all, of these long-term effects of maltreatment or abuse are multifactorial. It is not to say that every child that experiences abuse will be guaranteed to exhibit these behaviors and that children who grow up in healthy homes cannot. Part of the reason they develop these behaviors may have something to do with being raised in an environment where negative behaviors are the norm.

    For example, a child who sees their parents physically and emotionally harming each other will likely believe that is how all parents communicate. In turn, they may also exhibit this behavior, whether or not they were directly abused.

    What you can do to help

    The weight of child abuse and neglect is heaviest on the victims. Still, experts highlight that society also “pays the price.” Oftentimes, abuse is a vicious, generational cycle and can be extremely hard for victims to even know they are being abused let alone break free.

    For this reason, we must step up if we suspect child maltreatment.

    According to the Department of Justice, it is our civic and moral duty to report a case of child abuse and neglect. In fact, some people, like teachers, heads of hospitals, and barangay officials, are required by law to report child abuse cases.

    Please note that you can report a child abuse case to:

    • Local Barangay Council for the Protection of Children
    • The nearest city prosecutor
    • The police department in your area
    • Commission on Human Rights
    • Anti-Child Abuse, Discrimination, Exploitation Division (ACADED) of National Bureau of Investigation
    • Department of Social Welfare & Development (DSWD)

    Key Takeaways

    The effects of child maltreatment don’t end with the incident. Often, the negative impacts follow the child into their adulthood. While there is no way to turn back time, there are things we can all do to help minimize the damage, break cycles of abuse, and nurture a child’s development into a healthy adult. For this reason, we must take action if we know a case of child abuse.

    Learn more about Other Child Health Issues here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Expertly reviewed by

    Jessica Espanto, LPT, MA, RPsy

    Psychology · In Touch Community Services

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jul 29, 2022

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