Age of Onset of Child Maltreatment Predicts Long-Term Mental Health Outcomes
Journal of Abnormal Psychology
Age of Onset, Child, Child Abuse, Child, Preschool, Female, Humans, Infant, Male, Mental Disorders, Prospective Studies, Risk Factors
The authors tested the hypothesis that children who are maltreated earlier in life are at greater risk for poor psychological functioning in adulthood than those maltreated later in life. Age of onset of maltreatment was assessed with 3 classifications: (a) continuous (ages 0-11 years); (b) dichotomous (early [ages 0-5 years] vs. later [ages 6-11 years]); and (c) developmental (infancy [ages 0-2 years], preschool [ages 3-5 years], early school age [ages 6-8 years], and school age [ages 9-11 years]). Individuals with documented cases of physical and sexual abuse and neglect prior to age 12 (N=496) were followed up and assessed in adulthood. Results indicated that an earlier onset of maltreatment, measured dichotomously and developmentally, predicted more symptoms of anxiety and depression in adulthood, while controlling for gender, race, current age, and other abuse reports. Later onset of maltreatment, measured continuously or developmentally, was predictive of more behavioral problems in adulthood. Implications for the assessment of maltreated children, the prevention of adult psychopathology, and the classification of age of maltreatment onset are discussed.