Child Maltreatment and Cumulative Inequality: The Impact of Race, Misfortune, and Resources for Early Life Course Mental Health?
Child maltreatment, or physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and neglect, is a pervasive social problem in the United States and globally. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (2016), approximately 3.2 million children had reports filed with Child Protective Services (CPS) for alleged maltreatment in 2014, and nearly 1,600 children died as a result. While research establishes that maltreatment during childhood has detrimental effects for mental health spanning the entire life course, such events do not occur in a vacuum. Questions remain about the role that additional risk factors and resources can play to exacerbate or ameliorate the influence of maltreatment. Drawing on the strengths of Cumulative Inequality Theory and the Bioecological Model of Development, I examine (1) the implications of experiencing child maltreatment during the earliest periods of the life course for children’s mental health, (2) how the pathways between maltreatment and mental health vary based on additional risk factors (e.g., belonging to a marginalized status group – racial/ethnic minority or experiencing other misfortunes such as growing up in poverty and/or violent neighborhoods), and (3) the role that psychosocial resources may play in moderating the association between maltreatment, other risk factors, and mental health. This dissertation utilizes 7 waves of data from the Longitudinal Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) Assessments 0-18, which includes information gathered from the child-participants, their primary caregiver, teachers, and CPS records. Within this dissertation are three empirical studies; the first two emphasize the effect that any maltreatment exposure during the early life course has for specific psychopathological (chapter 2) and cognitive development outcomes (chapter 3). The third study is focused on examining the heterogeneity in child maltreatment experiences – the timing, duration, frequency, and intensity – and the influence on developing any mental health problems (chapter 4). Findings from this research reinforce that child maltreatment indeed has a significant negative effect for mental health throughout the entire early life course, but also highlights that other risk factors can meaningfully influence trajectories and contribute to mental health inequality. Moreover, this study underscores the importance of psychosocial resources for their potential buffering effects for adverse experiences, yet I find that such resources do not always work in the ways expected by scholars and policy makers.
Mustillo, Purdue University.
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