The Sequelae of Neglect

  • Nicole A. Sciarrino
  • Tyler Elizabeth Hernandez
  • Jennifer Davidtz
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Psychology book series (BRIEFSPSYCHOL)


In childhood, abused and neglected individuals can develop seemingly functional coping strategies and behaviors; however, certain internalizing and externalizing behaviors can become increasingly maladaptive at subsequent developmental stages, contributing to the development of further difficulties (Widom, 2000). Although the impact of neglect is not as well understood as that of abuse, research examining individuals reporting perceived childhood neglect, as well as survivors of co-occurring childhood maltreatment and neglect, has revealed various functional difficulties beginning in childhood and persisting into adulthood (e.g., De Bellis, 2005; Gauthier, Stollak, Messé, & Aronoff, 1996; Glaser, 2000; Grassi-Oliveira & Stein, 2008; Kessler et al., 2010; Spertus, Yehuda, Wong, Halligan, & Seremetis, 2003; Sperry & Widom, 2013; Widom, 2000). These problems include cognitive impairments and lower intellectual functioning (De Bellis, Hooper, Spratt, & Woolley, 2009; Joseph, 1999; Strathearn, Gray, O’Callaghan, & Wood, 2001; Widom, 2000), psychopathology (Gauthier et al., 1996; Kessler et al., 2010; Powers, Ressler, & Bradley, 2009; Spertus et al., 2003; Widom, 2000), lower levels of interpersonal skills and support (Kim & Cicchetti, 2010; Sperry & Widom, 2013), impairments in emotion identification and regulation (De Bellis, 2005; Kim & Cicchetti, 2010; Pechtel & Pizzagalli, 2011), and physical health concerns (Moxley, Squires, & Lindstrom, 2012; Stirling & Amaya-Jackson, 2008; Walker et al., 1999), among others. Both direct and indirect pathways have been proposed to account for problems in adjustment in adulthood, which may stem from early childhood neglect. Most explanatory models consider not just the role of the abusive or neglectful acts themselves, but also take into account the influence of the family of origin (Gold, 2000; Widom, 2000), which may be due to the impact of the child’s perception of parenting behaviors—or lack thereof.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders-5 (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barth, R. P. (2009). Preventing child abuse and neglect with parent training: Evidence and opportunities. The Future of Children, 19, 95–118. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bogdan, R., Williamson, D. E., & Hariri, A. R. (2012). Mineralocorticoid receptor Iso/Val (rs5522) genotype moderates the association between previous childhood emotional neglect and amygdala reactivity. American Journal of Psychiatry, 169, 515–522. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. Cancel, A., Comte, M., Truillet, R., Boukezzi, S., Rousseau, P. F., Zendjidjian, X. Y., et al. (2015). Childhood neglect predicts disorganization in schizophrenia through grey matter decrease in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 132, 244–256. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Chapple, C. L., Tyler, K. A., & Bersani, B. E. (2005). Child neglect and adolescent violence: Examining the effects of self-control and peer rejection. Violence and Victims, 20, 39–53. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. De Bellis, M. D. (2005). The psychobiology of neglect. Child Maltreatment, 10, 150–172. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. De Bellis, M. D., Hooper, S. R., Spratt, E. G., & Woolley, D. P. (2009). Neuropsychological findings in childhood neglect and their relationships to pediatric PTSD. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 15, 868–878. CrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. Enoch, M. A. (2011). The role of early life stress as a predictor for alcohol and drug dependence. Psychopharmacology, 214, 17–31. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Evans, R., Garner, P., & Honig, A. S. (2014). Prevention of violence, abuse and neglect in early childhood: A review of the literature on research, policy and practice. Early Child Development and Care, 184, 1295–1335. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fahy, A. E., Stansfeld, S. A., Smuk, M., Lain, D., van der Horst, M., Vickerstaff, S., et al. (2017). Longitudinal associations of experiences of adversity and socioeconomic disadvantage during childhood with labour force participation and exit in later adulthood. Social Science & Medicine, 183, 80–87. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14, 245–258. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Gauthier, L., Stollak, G., Messé, L., & Aronoff, J. (1996). Recall of childhood neglect and physical abuse as differential predictors of current psychological functioning. Child Abuse & Neglect, 20, 549–559. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gerra, G., Somaini, L., Manfredini, M., Raggi, M. A., Saracino, M. A., Amore, M., et al. (2014). Dysregulated responses to emotions among abstinent heroin users: Correlation with childhood neglect and addiction severity. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 48, 220–228. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Glaser, D. (2000). Child abuse and neglect and the brain—A review. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41, 97–116. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Gold, S. N. (2000). Not trauma alone: Therapy for child abuse survivors in family and social context. Philadelphia: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Gold, S. N., Hyman, S. M., & Andres-Hyman, R. C. (2004). Family of origin environments in two clinical samples of survivors of intra-familial, extra-familial, and both types of sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 28, 1199–1212. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grassi-Oliveira, R., & Stein, L. M. (2008). Childhood maltreatment associated with PTSD and emotional distress in low-income adults: The burden of neglect. Child Abuse & Neglect, 32, 1089–1094. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hartley, C. C. (2002). The co-occurrence of child maltreatment and domestic violence: Examining both neglect and child physical abuse. Child Maltreatment, 7, 349–358. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Hobbs, C. J., & Wynne, J. M. (2002). Neglect of neglect. Current Pediatrics, 22, 144–150. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Johnson, J. J., Smailes, E. M., Cohen, P., Brown, J., & Bernstein, D. P. (2000). Associations between four types of childhood neglect and personality disorder symptoms during adolescence and early adulthood: Findings of a community-based longitudinal study. Journal of Personality Disorders, 14, 171–187. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Joseph, R. (1999). Environmental influences on neural plasticity, the limbic system, emotional development and attachment: A review. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 29, 189–208. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Kessler, R. C., McLaughlin, K. A., Green, J. G., Gruber, M. J., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., et al. (2010). Childhood adversities and adult psychopathology in the WHO World mental health surveys. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 197, 378–385. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. Kim, J., & Cicchetti, D. (2010). Longitudinal pathways linking child maltreatment, emotion regulation, peer relations, and psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 706–716. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Maheu, F. S., Dozier, M., Guyer, A. E., Mandell, D., Peloso, E., Poeth, K., et al. (2010). A preliminary study of medial temporal lobe function in youths with a history of caregiver deprivation and emotional neglect. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 10, 34–49. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Moxley, K. M., Squires, J., & Lindstrom, L. (2012). Early intervention and maltreated children: A current look at the child abuse prevention and treatment act and part C. Infants & Young Children, 25, 3–18. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nikulina, V., & Widom, C. S. (2014). Do race, neglect, and childhood poverty predict physical health in adulthood? A multilevel prospective analysis. Child Abuse & Neglect, 28, 414–424. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Paris, J. (2013). The intelligent clinician’s guide to the DSM-5. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pechtel, P., & Pizzagalli, D. A. (2011). Effects of early life stress on cognitive and affective function: An integrated review of human literature. Psychopharmacology, 214, 55–70. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Perry, B. D. (2002). Childhood experience and the expression of genetic potential: What childhood neglect tells us about nature and nurture. Brain and Mind, 3, 79–100. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pignatelli, A. M., Wampers, M., Loriedo, C., Biondi, M., & Vanderlinden, J. (2016). Childhood neglect in eating disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 18, 100–115. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Powers, A., Ressler, K. J., & Bradley, R. G. (2009). The protective role of friendship on the effects of childhood abuse and depression. Depression and Anxiety, 26, 46–53. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  32. Shin, S. H., Miller, D. P., & Teicher, M. H. (2013). Exposure to childhood neglect and physical abuse and developmental trajectories of heavy episodic drinking from early adolescence into young adulthood. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 127, 31–38. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Sperry, D. M., & Widom, C. S. (2013). Child abuse and neglect, social support, and psychopathology in adulthood: A prospective investigation. Child Abuse & Neglect, 37, 415–425. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Spertus, I. L., Yehuda, R., Wong, C. M., Halligan, S., & Seremetis, S. V. (2003). Childhood emotional abuse and neglect as predictors of psychological and physical symptoms in women presenting to a primary care practice. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 1247–1258. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stirling, J., & Amaya-Jackson, L. (2008). Understanding the behavioral and emotional consequences of child abuse. Pediatrics, 122, 667–673. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Strathearn, L., Gray, P. H., O'Callaghan, M. J., & Wood, D. O. (2001). Childhood neglect and cognitive development in extremely low birth weight infants: A prospective study. Pediatrics, 108, 142–151. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Tanner, K. & Turney, D. (2003). What do we know about child neglect? A critical review of the literature and its application to social work practice. Child and Family Social Work, 8, 25–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Walker, E. A., Gelfand, A., Katon, W. J., Koss, M. P., Von Korff, M., Bernstein, D., et al. (1999). Adult health status of women with histories of childhood abuse and neglect. The American Journal of Medicine, 107, 332–339. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Wark, M. J., Kruczek, T., & Boley, A. (2003). Emotional neglect and family structure: Impact on student functioning. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 1033–1043. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Widom, C. S. (2000). Childhood victimization: Early adversity, later psychopathology. National Institute of Justice Journal, 242, 3–9. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  41. Young, J. C., & Widom, C. S. (2014). Long-term effects of child abuse and neglect on emotion processing in adulthood. Child Abuse & Neglect, 38, 1369–1381. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Widom, C. S., Czaja, S., Wilson, H. W., Allwood, M., & Chauhan, P. (2012). Do the long-tern consequences of neglect differ for children of different races and ethnic backgrounds? Child Maltreatment, 18(1), 32–55. doi: 10.1177/1077559512460728

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole A. Sciarrino
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tyler Elizabeth Hernandez
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jennifer Davidtz
    • 2
  1. 1.James A. Haley Veterans’ HospitalTampaUSA
  2. 2.Nova Southeastern UniversityFort LauderdaleUSA
  3. 3.Henderson Behavioral HealthHollywoodUSA

Personalised recommendations