Recent brain research has established a foundation for many of the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional difficulties exhibited by children who experienced maltreatment in their early years. Maltreatment (child abuse or neglect) during infancy and early childhood has been shown to negatively affect early brain development and can have enduring repercussions into adolescence and adulthood.
The experiences of infancy and early childhood provide the organizing framework for the expression of children's intelligence, emotions, and personalities. When those experiences are primarily negative, children may develop emotional, behavioral, and learning problems that persist throughout their lifetime, especially in the absence of targeted interventions.
Center on the Developing Child
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2017)
Publishes and links to research on early brain development, learning, and behavior and how to apply that knowledge to policies and practices. The website includes sections on resources related to neglect and toxic stress and the resulting impact on child development.
Childhood Maltreatment Is Associated With Altered Fear Circuitry and Increased Internalizing Symptoms by Late Adolescence (PDF - 686 KB)
Herringa, Birn, Ruttle, Burghy, Stodola, Davidson, & Essex (2013)
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(47)
Examines the associations between experiences of maltreatment during childhood and functional brain connectivity in 64 adolescents participating in a longitudinal community study. The findings from the study may help explain higher risk for internalizing disorders in children who have experienced maltreatment.
The ChildTrauma Academy (2017)
Offers online courses, trainings, and other resources on early brain development and the impact of maltreatment.
Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect on the Brain [Podcast]
Discusses the biological consequences of early childhood neglect and trauma on brain development. The podcast is the final part in the series “Brain Matters: Reporting from the Frontlines of Neuroscience.”
Effects of Complex Trauma
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (2017)
Provides information on the physical and cognitive effects of complex trauma as well as the impact on attachment and relationships, emotional responses, behavior, and long-term health.
Impact on the Physiology of the Brain
Blue Knot Foundation (2017)
Provides information on decreased frontal lobe functioning and increased limbic system sensitivity and the impact on the left and right hemispheres of the brain in children experiencing maltreatment. The webpage also includes information on the impact of maltreatment on stress hormones, thyroid production, and gene expression.
Paradise Lost: The Neurobiological and Clinical Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect
Summarizes the persistent biological alterations associated with childhood maltreatment, including speci?c alterations in brain areas associated with mood regulation.
Trauma, Brain & Relationship: Helping Children Heal [Video]
Santa Barbara Graduate Institute (2013)
Provides an understanding of how trauma effects brain development, including how it affects children's behaviors and social relationships.