Child Maltreatment and High Risk Families

By Julie Taylor; Anne Lazenbatt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Theorising maltreatment

Introduction

In this chapter we examine some of the major theories that help us understand maltreatment in high risk families. We base our understanding of child maltreatment within an ecological framework. The explosion of research on neurodevelopment is then explored, alongside the effects of post-traumatic stress and the importance of strong attachment relationships. There are strong associations between childhood abuse and mental ill health, both as a child and an adult. Impoverished environments can further exacerbate vulnerability for children, and inter-generational cycles of violence are not uncommon.

… maltreated children are likely to manifest atypicalities in neu-
robiological processes, physiological responsiveness, emotion
recognition and emotion regulation, attachment relationships,
self-system development, representational processes, social
information processing, peer relationships, school functioning,
and romantic relationships (Cicchetti, 2013, p. 403)
.

Major advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, genomics and the behavioural and social sciences are deepening our understanding of healthy development in the child. Infancy and the child’s experiences during these early years lay a foundation of learning, behaviour, building relationships and overall mental health and well-being. A strong foundation in these early years lays the matrix for economic prosperity, healthy communities and successful parenting of the next generation. However, a weak foundation can seriously undermine the social and economic vitality of a nation (Thornberry et al., 2012). Over many decades research in child development has taught us that parents, families and communities provide the much needed supportive relationships and positive learning experiences that young children need for healthy development (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000). Unhealthy child development occurs with toxic stress in early childhood including violence, domestic abuse, substance misuse and parental mental health, which can establish a vicious cycle of stress, impairing the

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