Maltreated children younger than age 3 constitute a vulnerable group in America. Experts have argued that young children are particularly susceptible to the trauma of maltreatment because they rely on others for their basic survival and do not have the capabilities to flee, report, or protect themselves from abuse and neglect (Kaufman & Henrich, 2000; Smyke, Wajda-Johnston, & Zeanah, 2004). Statistics indicate that 79% of all abuse-related fatalities occur when children are the age of 48 months or younger (National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, 2005). Additionally, although the rate of substantiated child abuse and neglect for children ages 18 and younger has slightly decreased from 1990 to 2003, the rate of victimization of children younger than age 3 continues to be of concern. In 2003, the national rate of substantiated maltreatment for children younger than age 3 was 16.4 per 1,000 (National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, 2005). Moreover, evidence suggests that approximately 21% will experience subsequent maltreatment (Palusci, Smith, & Paneth, 2005). Infants and toddlers also constitute one of the fastest growing maltreated groups in Child Welfare Services (Berrick, Needell, Barth, & Jonson-Reid, 1998; Wulczyn, Barth, Yuan, Jones-Harden, & Landsverk, 2005).
The goal of this paper is to describe the most common problems that maltreated infants and toddlers experience and to highlight the benefits of early interventions for this population. In so doing, child welfare personnel and policymakers who are responsible for assessing, referring, and advocating for maltreated children can make more informed decisions. For the sake of clarity, the paper is divided into two parts Part 1: Developmental Problems of Maltreated Children and Part 2: Early Intervention Options for Maltreated Children.
Part 1 highlights common developmental problems in health, cognitive, emotional, social, and psychological functioning of young maltreated children.(1) These developmental difficulties are often ignored because of other service needs, namely safety and permanency.
Part 2 discusses the potential benefits of early intervention options for maltreated children through highlighting common treatment formats. Included is a section on future research and recommendations. That section discusses ways to improve research designs that determine the effectiveness of various treatment programs, and it gives recommendations about how professionals can better recognize young maltreated children, more efficiently enroll them in treatment programs, and more strongly ensure their active participation in those programs.
1. Less frequent problems of young maltreated children (i.e., autism, cerebral palsy, vision and hearing impairments) are not discussed here. There is cursory evidence that these disabled children may be at higher risk for maltreatment.