The Early Signs Of Child Abuse

The topic that I chose to research is the effect abuse has on children. Abuse has different degrees of severity such as being bullied to more serious forms such as sexual assault. Neglect could also be classified as a form of abuse.

I am curious to know what the effects of abuse would be on children and whether these consequences would be short term or long term. I chose this topic because my mother is a Special Education teacher for high school students and many of her students have suffered some form of abuse. Since a large number of her students are survivors of abuse, I wanted to research if enduring abuse caused cognitive and processing deficits, as well as emotional problems.

There have been studies performed on children and adults to monitor the effects caused by child abuse. The effects that have been reported range from language delay to severe psychotic illnesses. Emotional and psychosocial problems encountered by children who have been sexually abused, language problems among abused and neglected children: a meta-analytic review, Thought and language Disorder among sexually abused children in a psychiatric hospital, and cumulative childhood risk and adult functioning in abused and neglected children grown up are the articles being reviewed today to answer the question: what are the effects of childhood abuse and are they lasting?

A study was conducted by Guven (2018) to determine the emotional and psychosocial problems a victim of child sexual abuse may come across.

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By identifying the early signs of child abuse, one would be able to meet the needs of the child, expedite the treatment, and impede the possible long-term effects .

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The study was conducted between November 2012 and June 2014 in Turkey at a Child Advocacy Center. 518 children, with a history of having been victims of sexual abuse, applied and 443 children were chosen to participate in the study. The 443 children ranged in ages from zero to eighteen years.

Various tools were utilized to interview the children and their families. The interviewers conducted forensic interviews in a room which was equipped with cameras and specialists. Researchers also provided the participants with questionnaires that covered the child’s sociodemographic data, behaviors exhibited and observed by the parents after the abuse, sexual abuse data, anus and genital data was included, as well. Since the anus and genital data is a sensitive area, a nurse affiliated with the research institution conducted the exams. The researchers also gathered information on the families’ sociodemographic data and the risk factors for sexual abuse. The families’ information was collected via questionnaire, as well. A highly qualified registered nurse, with degrees in forensic nursing and interviewing, reviewed the information reported by the children and their families, interpreted the findings, and composed the data, (Guven, 2018).

The data revealed that there are numerous psychological and emotional consequences for survivors of child abuse. The rather alarming significant findings of the study was the average age the children began experiencing sexual abuse was 13 years, more than half of the children reported the sexual abuse went on for more than one month, all children reported their abusers were male and the child had an emotional bond with the abuser. The two biggest emotional sufferings that survivors reported were despair and a fear that the incident would happen again. Parents reported children became increasingly distant after the abuse, and also began partaking in risky behavior more frequently than prior to the abuse. Survivors of child abuse physically displayed signs of fear, stress, and shame. Children exhibited these signs through lip biting, scowling, and the tensing of muscles. Although child sexual abuse is a traumatic event for any child to endure, the research revealed that children with supportive families and social groups fared better than those who did not have support. By being able to recognize the early signs of emotional and psychosocial turmoil, the child may be able to receive help quickly and this trauma will not cause a lasting impacting on the development of the child, (Guven, 2018).

As with any study, there were limitations that could have easily impacted the findings. The researchers reported that many of the children had never experienced any type of anogenital exam and were therefore uncomfortable when the nurse was performing her forensic exam. This could alter the results if this nurse interprets the discomfort of the child as a fear of reoccurrence of the event versus being uncomfortable due to the fact that the child has never been subjected to that type of exam. Another limitation of the study is that several of the children reported being subjected to underage marriage and prostitution. This type of abuse could skew the results as these children may present with more severe emotional and psychosocial disturbances, having been exposed to other forms of severe trauma. Even with these limitations, the study was able to demonstrate the emotional disturbances caused by sexual abuse, (Guven 2018).

While victims of child abuse demonstrate emotional and psychosocial disturbances, children have also displayed language delays. A study conducted by Sylvestre and her colleagues in 2016 compares the language skills of children who have suffered abuse and neglect versus the language skills of children who did not suffer abuse and neglect. In addition, the type of maltreatment and the age the child suffered the abuse and neglect are examined to explore any coincidences. There were three groups of children that ranged in ages 0 to 12 years. Two groups of children suffered abuse and neglect which had been confirmed by Child Welfare Services. The third group was a control group in which the children had experienced no abuse or neglect, (Sylvestre, 2016).

To answer the research questions yielded in this study, the researchers combed through databases searching for key phrases pertaining to their study. A total of 21 studies were reviewed by the researchers using the meta-analysis method. This method is used to examine existing studies and derive a conclusion based on the trends noted throughout the research. The articles that met the standard set by the researchers contained information about the children suffering physical abuse or neglect. To further ensure that the articles qualified for the study, the researchers then set forth four main attributes to be taken out of each article. First, the abuse or neglect was verified by Child Welfare Services or Social Services. The articles were then grouped based on whether the child suffered only physical abuse, only neglect, or both. Secondly, language variables were assessed and classified in to three groups: receptive language, expressive language, and pragmatics, (Sylvestre, 2016). Thirdly, the number of participants and child age, (Sylvestre, 2016). The final information taken from the articles were the country in which the studies were conducted and the year the study was published. All of the articles were reviewed and studied in depth to identify any correlations between language delay and children that experienced physical abuse and/or neglect.

According to Sylvestre, (2016), the meta-analysis of the studies yielded that, on average, children who have experienced physical abuse and/or neglect, performed lower on standardized assessments of language than children who have not experienced physical abuse or neglect. The three forms of language being assessed; expressive language, receptive language, and pragmatic, did not reveal that one was affected more than the other in children who have experienced physical abuse and/or neglect. Although it has been proven that language delay is linked to physical abuse and neglect, one mistreatment does not exacerbate the delay of language over the other. Therefore, based on the meta-analysis, is it safe to draw the conclusion that any form of mistreatment can cause language delay.

The meta-analysis of the existing studies did have some limitations. One limitation being that the articles used in this study were conducted over a 40-year period. While the researchers provided the years the articles were published, what may qualify as neglect or physical abuse now, may not have qualified 40 years ago. In addition, the length the physical abuse and/or neglect took place was not specified in some of the articles. Without the length of mistreatment being noted for every study, it would be difficult to draw the conclusion that long term versus short term mistreatment has lasting impacts on delayed speech. Regardless of these limitations, the study proved that mistreatment is indeed linked to speech delay, (Sylvestre, 2016).

Another study conducted by Francine Conway (2013) and her colleagues supported the hypothesis that children who have suffered mistreatment may have language disorders. Conway and her colleagues also included in the hypothesis that the mistreatment of children can also lead to thought disorders. The study was conducted in a psychiatric inpatient hospital with 39 children ranging in age from 7 to 17 years. A little over half of the participants had been sexually abused and all of the children had been formally diagnosed with one or more thought disorders.

In order to collect data from the inpatients, the researchers administered several assessments to gain accurate information. First, the child’s age, sexual abuse history, and gender was extracted from their file. Secondly, a Thematic Apperception Test, TAT, was administered to the children by a licensed psychologist. The TAT is a test which aims to have children tell stories based on the cards they are shown. After the child tells a story, the tester then follows up with multiple questions. The results of this test were given to the researchers for them to assess the results utilizing the Thought and Language Index. The Thought and Language Index is utilized to evaluate the thought disorder in a psychotic illness,(Conway, 2013). After this was completed, an independent contractor, with no knowledge of the sexual abuse, graded the assessments. The researchers then reviewed the results and began comparing whether child sexual abuse may act as a precursor to language and thought disorders,(Conway, 2013).

Conway (2013) and her colleagues proved the hypothesis to be correct. There is a strong correlation between non-logical reasoning and childhood sexual abuse. When presented with a situation involving a man and woman, a child who had suffered sexual abuse resorted to irrational thinking. Although the hypothesis was proven to be correct, some limitations were present. One limitation being that the cohort size may have been too small. Another limitation being that this was the first time the Thought and Language Index was used with children. Therefore, the results may not be as accurate. Nevertheless, Conway and her colleagues were able to support their hypothesis, as well as the hypothesis of others, that child abuse can cause lasting negative effects such as thought and language disorders.

Childhood physical and sexual abuse have been linked to many effects. However, what about other childhood risks? A study conducted by Horan and Widom (2015) explored these other childhood risks and the possible consequences of not being able to adapt as an adult. The study paired children who were neglected and abused with children who were not abused and neglected, and then compared their adulthood. There was a total of 667 matches that participated. The participants had all grown up in the 60s and 70s.

To assess the participants, the researchers conducted several phases of the study. In the first phase, interviews were conducted to identify the abused and neglected individuals, as well as the group that had not suffered any type of mistreatment. Research was also conducted to extract what type of crimes had been committed. The second phase was an additional interview. The interviewers and participants were not privy to what the study was examining. This was done to not create any type of bias. The researchers asked questions about the participants family history prior to the age of 18, socioeconomic factors, and their adult court cases. The participants were then rated as either being high risk or low risk,(Horan, 2015).

Once again, Horan and Widom (2015) also provided evidence with their study that childhood trauma has a direct link with an assortment of issues that span well into adulthood. The results demonstrated that children who experience childhood risk factors are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and criminal behavior. Despite being able to provide substantial evidence that clearly demonstrates the effect of childhood risk factors, there are certain limitations involved with the study. The researchers did not have the opportunity to evaluate the timing of the risk factors. For example, if a child participated in theft, the researchers were not able to determine when the theft took place and the amount of time the child participated in the act. These factors could alter the results of the study. Another limitation would be having the ability to evaluate only certain risk factors. The questionnaire provided to the participants only inquired about twelve risk factors, however there are many others. Although there are limitations, this study exhibits how childhood risk factors, which include abuse, neglect, and many others, can contribute to many long-term disorders and the inability to adapt well to society as an adult.

There are many factors that affect the upbringing of a child. Some of these factors provide positive examples for children. Unfortunately, there are also many negative experiences that a child could endure that have the ability to cause damaging and lasting effects. Childhood abuse, neglect, and other risk factors are all experiences that could lead to language delay, thought and language disorders, emotional problems, and an array of other issues that were covered in the studies examined. If children are treated with love and given opportunities, they blossom and thrive. This was demonstrated in several of the studies reviewed. In Colossians 3:21, the bible informs us that by being harsh with children, we diminish and discourage them, so we must lift them up. If a child is taught correctly from a young age, he will more than likely succeed. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it,” (Proverbs 22:6 English Standard Version). To sum up the findings of the articles examined, there is a collection of effects caused by childhood abuse and neglect, and these effects can be damaging well into the adult years of the abused child.

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The Early Signs Of Child Abuse. (2022, Jun 05). Retrieved from

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