The Impact of Child Abuse and Neglect the First Three Years of Life

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The impact of child abuse and neglect on the first three years of life

From birth to the age of three, there is immense growth in all areas of a child’s development. The various experiences a child encounters impact on these areas of development to a very large extent. When experiences are predominantly negative, children may develop various developmental problems that persist throughout their lives. A growing body of evidence indicates that child abuse and neglect can alter the process of the social, emotional, and intellectual growth of a child (Egeland & Sroufe, 1981; Hildyard & Wolfe, 2002). This information is consistent with theories of attachment by John Bowlby (1988) and Mary Ainsworth (1970), and Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development (1963). These theories suggest that maltreatment occurring early in life is particularly detrimental to the subsequent development of individuals.

Child maltreatment is the deliberate harm inflicted upon children and young people by adults or older adolescents. According to the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (2011), there are four main types of child abuse, which may co-exist: physical abuse; emotional maltreatment; neglect and sexual abuse.

Physical abuse is defined as the deliberate use of physical force against another resulting in harm or potential bodily injury. When exposed to this form of abuse from birth to the ages of three, there can be detrimental effects to the health of a child (Vinchon et al, 2005). These health effects include physical injuries such as bruises and broken bones. Physical abuse can also lead to future health problems such as “heart disease, obesity, liver disease, cancer and chronic lung disease” (Lazenbatt 2010, ...

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...loping cognitive, emotional and social problems that may continue throughout the lifespan. Child abuse can also impede on the important attachment relationship infants have with their primary caregiver at early ages. This disruption can further lead to further developmental issues such as behavioural problems. This negative interaction during childhood can have continual physical, intellectual, and psychological consequences that may be evident in later periods of life for the individual. However, the different ways in which children react to experiences also needs to be noted as not every child reacts in the same way. Genes and experience both play important roles in the way a child’s reaction towards abuse and neglect. An individual who experienced maltreatment as a child, may not necessarily have developmental or attachment issues and actually develop normally.

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