What Are the Effects of Child Abuse?

Medically Reviewed on 6/22/2021

effects of child abuse
Child abuse can have a lifelong impact on a child’s physical and mental health

Child abuse can have a devastating effect on a child’s beliefs, self-esteem, development and ability to function. Abuse often occurs repeatedly and involves more than one type, resulting in lifelong complications to a child’s mental and physical health.

The physical, emotional, and psychological effects of abuse on children and young adults may include the following:

Physical health

Physical child abuse may result in minor injuries such as bruises or abrasions, or severe injuries such deep lacerations, broken bones, or internal bleeding. These physical injuries can also result in long-term emotional damage.

Mental health

The impact on a child’s mental health can persist well into adulthood. Child abuse can result in mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.

Childhood trauma

Trauma from child abuse can result in the child having issues with trust, behavior, communication, and relationships. Victims may be aggressive, violent, and prone to drug and alcohol abuse or suicidal thoughts. They may have difficulty learning or holding onto a job. They may also deal with anxiety and constant fear.

Brain development

Child abuse can affect a child’s brain development and cognitive abilities, causing difficulties with speech and language. Victims may have learning disorders or regression of skills or development.

Social difficulties

Children who are abused and neglected are often fearful and have trust issues. They may have difficulty communicating and maintaining relationships. They may be insecure, anxious, aggressive, withdrawn, or clingy.

Behavioral issues

Child abuse can lead to behavioral issues during childhood and young adulthood. Victims may have emotional outbursts, changes in mood, changes in behavior, sadness, withdrawal, aggressiveness, violence, hyperactivity, bed-wetting, low self-esteem, etc. Some of these behaviors can continue into adulthood.

What are signs of child abuse?

Signs of child abuse depend on a child’s age and the type of abuse they are suffering from. Some may not show major external signs, and just because a child does show these signs does not mean they are being abused.

If you suspect that a child is being abused, you should report it so the child can receive help. Signs and symptoms of child abuse may include:

  • Physical injuries such as welts, belt marks, bite marks, and fractures
  • Injuries around the genitals
  • Withdrawn or clingy behavior
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Repetitive movements, such as rocking, sucking, and biting
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Delayed development
  • Learning difficulty
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Bet-wetting
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Eating disorders
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships with friends and family
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or other activities a child was once interested in
  • Obsessive compulsive behavior
  • Substance abuse (alcohol and/or drug abuse)
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sexual behaviors or knowledge that is inconsistent for their age or development
  • Difficulty communicating with others
  • Distrust or fear of adults
  • Hurting other children or animals
  • Regression in skills or development

In babies under 1 year of age, child abuse may indicated by:

  • Failure to thrive/underweight babies
  • Fractured ribs/arms

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Medically Reviewed on 6/22/2021
References
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK195987/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3743691/

https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/effects-child-abuse-and-neglect-children-and-adolescents

https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/long_term_consequences.pdf