Child Maltreatment Its Effect on Multiple Levels of Child Functioning

Extensive empirical investigations have provided ample evidence to implicate child maltreatment in the disruption of diverse areas of cognitive and socioemotional development, including emotion regulation and recognition, the formation of secure attachment relationships, autonomy and integration of the self system, effective peer relations, and successful adaptation to school (Cicchetti & Toth, 2005; Cicchetti & Valentino, 2006). Children who experience maltreatment and the associated disruptions in development often develop a profile of vulnerability factors that increases the probability of the emergence of maladaptation and psychopathology, accompanied by continued negative transactions with the environment (Cicchetti, 1989; Cicchetti & Lynch, 1995; Cicchetti & Toth, 1995, 2005).

Theoretical formulations and research investigations in the area of child maltreatment have examined and described the developmental outcomes associated with child maltreatment utilizing the domain of variables that focus primarily on the level of behavioral functioning of the individual, family, and community system. However, it has only been over the past decade that researchers investigating the consequences of child maltreatment have examined its impact on the brain and other neurobiological systems, as well as investigated the potential role that the alteration of these biological systems, in response to the experience of maltreatment, may have on the behavioral manifestation of atypical developmental and psychopathological outcomes.

There is a growing amount of evidence in the neuroscience literature indicating that social experience alters brain structure, function, and organization across development (see, e.g., Black, Jones, Nelson, & Greenough, 1998; Cicchetti, 2002b; Greenough, Black, & Wallace, 1987; Nelson, 1999). Not surprisingly, research specifically examining the impact of adverse experience on humans and other animal species has clearly demonstrated the negative impact of such adversity on the brain and associated neurobiological systems (e.g., Gunnar & Vasquez, 2006; McEwen, 2000; Nelson, 2000a). In addition, recent work has begun to highlight the types of alterations of brain and biological functioning brought on by the experience of maltreatment (see Bremner, 2003; DeBellis, 2001, 2005; and Teicher, 2002, for reviews).

A more complete and integrated understanding of the vulnerability faced by maltreated children will be achieved only through examination of risk processes at multiple levels of analysis (see Cicchetti & Dawson, 2002). To date, studies that have directly examined brain structure and functioning in maltreated children have not explicitly tested the relation among biological systems, maladaptive developmental outcomes, and psychopa-thology. Nonetheless, the results from a number of these investigations have suggested possible linkages between some aspects of brain structure and functioning and the subsequent development of psychopathology (e.g., Cicchetti & Curtis, 2005; Cicchetti & Rogosch, 2001; DeBellis, Baum, et al., 1999; DeBellis, Keshavan, et al., 1999; Pollak et al., 1997). In addition, evidence from many of these studies has begun to suggest how the experience of maltreatment may effect memory functioning.

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