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Advancing our understanding of the effects of childhood adversity and trauma is vital to improving interventions to help young people who have experienced early adversity.

Here we highlight five open access papers which offer an insight into the consequences of childhood adversity for the mental health of children and young people, the development of resilience, and implications for practice.

Please click on the link within the relevant tab to access a paper.

Annual research review: Resilient functioning in maltreated children–past, present, and future perspectives

Annual research review: Resilient functioning in maltreated children–past, present, and future perspectives

Summary: Child maltreatment poses a significant risk for the emergence of mental health difficulties across the life course. A growing body of research also documents the harmful effects of abuse and neglect on biological processes. However, not all maltreated children experience these developmental difficulties - a proportion of maltreated children develop in a resilient fashion despite the adversity they face. This paper reviews the literature on resilient functioning in children who have experienced maltreatment.

Citation:  Cicchetti, D. (2013). Annual research review: Resilient functioning in maltreated children–past, present, and future perspectives. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(4), 402-422.

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Relational interventions for child maltreatment: Past, present, and future perspectives

Relational interventions for child maltreatment: Past, present, and future perspectives

Summary:  This paper highlights the need for relational interventions for maltreated children and their families, to counteract the negative impact of these contexts on child development. The evidence base on relational interventions for maltreated individuals is discussed, and the implications of the individual’s genetic make up for these interventions are explored. It concludes with recommendations for advancing the development, provision, and evaluation of relational interventions for individuals with histories of child maltreatment.

Citation:  Toth, S. L., Gravener-Davis, J. A., Guild, D. J., & Cicchetti, D. (2013). Relational interventions for child maltreatment: Past, present, and future perspectives. Development and psychopathology, 25(4pt2), 1601-1617.

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The theory of latent vulnerability: Reconceptualizing the link between childhood maltreatment and psychiatric disorder

The theory of latent vulnerability: Reconceptualizing the link between childhood maltreatment and psychiatric disorder

Summary: Maltreatment is associated with an increased life time risk of mental health problems. When they arise such difficulties tend to develop earlier, be more severe and respond less well to treatment. This article introduces the concept of ‘latent vulnerability’ as a way of understanding this risk. According to this theory, exposure to early adverse environments leads to neurocognitive changes that can be understood as adaptations that are helpful in the short term but incur risk of mental health problems in the longer term. The paper in particular focuses on the evidence related to threat processing as one exemplar system. The concept of latent vulnerability provides an important rationale to improve approaches to prevention for children who have experienced maltreatment but who do not yet present with a psychiatric disorder.

Citation:  McCrory, E. J., & Viding, E. (2015). The theory of latent vulnerability: reconceptualizing the link between childhood maltreatment and psychiatric disorder. Development and psychopathology, 27(02), 493-505.

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The impact of childhood maltreatment: A review of neurobiological and genetic factors

The impact of childhood maltreatment: A review of neurobiological and genetic factors

Summary:  Maltreatment during childhood has been linked with increased risk of developing mental health difficulties. The relationship between maltreatment and the development of mental health disorders has been shown to vary according to genetic factors.

This review offers a concise overview of studies that have investigated the neurobiological impact of childhood maltreatment.

Citation:  McCrory, E., De Brito, S. A., & Viding, E. (2011). The impact of childhood maltreatment: a review of neurobiological and genetic factors. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2, 48.

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Assessment of the harmful psychiatric and behavioral effects of different forms of child maltreatment

Assessment of the harmful psychiatric and behavioral effects of different forms of child maltreatment

Summary:  It is commonly assumed that some forms of abuse (e.g., physical and sexual abuse) are more harmful than others (e.g., emotional abuse and neglect). Another assumption is that each form of abuse has specific consequences for an individual’s mental health.

Contrary to received opinion, this study found that different types of maltreatment have broad, universal effects on mental health. As a result, effective treatment for any form of maltreatment is likely to have psychological benefits.

Citation: Vachon, D. D., Krueger, R. F., Rogosch, F. A., & Cicchetti, D. (2015). Assessment of the harmful psychiatric and behavioral effects of different forms of child maltreatment. JAMA psychiatry, 72(11), 1135-1142.

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The resource library at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child presents information on child development in an accessible way. It provides summaries of scientific findings, one of which is on The Science of Neglect, which is particularly relevant to this field.