By Miriam Jennifer Maclean, Scott Anthony Sims, Melissa O'Donnell, BMJ Journals, July 29, 2019
It is established that children who experience child abuse and neglect are at an increased risk of poorer mental health outcomes. The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child states that chronic stress to which maltreated children may be exposed, in the absence of consistent and supportive relationships with adult caregivers, has negative impacts on children’s developing brain. Furthermore, children who experience child abuse and neglect may be exposed to complex and chronic trauma which can result in persistent psychological problems.
There are, however, many factors that increase this risk including the fact that many of these children come from families where parental mental health issues are present. Therefore, there may be genetic and adversity factors that increase the level of vulnerability to poor mental health, in addition to the trauma associated with being a victim of abuse and/or neglect. In fact, research has suggested that familial risk factors prior to child maltreatment may be a stronger risk factor for poor mental health outcomes. In order to appropriately support young people involved in child welfare services, a strong evidence base regarding the burden of mental health issues, the type of mental health problems and the pre-existing risk that young people are exposed to is essential to guide the provision of services to ensure improved outcomes for this group of young people. This is also essential at a time when there is a national focus in Australia on improving the outcomes of young people who have been in out-of-home care and whether out-of-home care experiences reduce the risk of poor mental health outcomes into adulthood.