would be an understatement to say that the impact of child abuse and neglect on the developing brain is dramatic, far reaching
and lifelong. Advances in brain science over the past decade can now map brain activity. We can identify which areas of the
brain have specific thought processes as well as behavioral and emotional responses. The unseen consequences -- especially
of severe, repeated and prolonged abuse and neglect -- go far beyond the visible scars.
the brains of young children develop, critical periods occur in which different areas of the brain require specific kinds
of stimulation from caregivers if they are to fully mature. Trauma and low levels of proper nurturing occurring during these
critical periods is known to have lasting, negative impact on these critical developments that can be lifelong. In later childhood
much critical development occurs in the frontal regions of the brain where we know social functioning and the ability to display
empathy or caring for those around us and the ability to determine right from wrong occurs. Imaging studies of depressed adults
have shown that adults who experienced trauma in early childhood show atrophy in the region of the brain which regulates the
stress response and is important for cognitive or educational and vocational functioning.
in brain development also occur in the context of other risk factors, such as depression or substance abuse in the parents
and other caretakers.
Children who are abused are more likely to have sleep disturbance, attention problems, difficulties with learning and memory,
low academic achievement and attachment disorder.
The child who is traumatized over a long period will develop many difficulties that can persist to adulthood. Chronic abuse
is associated with later difficulties in the regulation of behavior and emotions which means that more misbehavior occurs
as is seen in delinquency.
Eighty percent of abused children meet the criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder by age 21, including depression,
anxiety, eating disorders and suicide attempts.
As adults they are more vulnerable to stress and are more likely to have difficulties with substance abuse.
Nearly one-third will eventually abuse their children.
As a result of difficulties associated with child abuse and neglect, a study in 2001 estimated the direct and indirect costs
of child abuse and neglect at $93 million per year.
County has one of the worst child abuse and neglect rates in Missouri, ranking second among counties. These high numbers are
due to more than good reporting by a concerned citizenry, as good reporting is not unique to our community. The high rates
in Greene County are real and parallel our high rates of domestic violence, substance abuse, poverty and other indicators
associated with child abuse and neglect.
earlier abused children get help, the greater the chance they have to heal and break the cycle of abuse.
Rives, MA, is vice president of corporate development and Sandra L. D'Angelo, PhD, is director of Missouri PIRC at Burrell