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Trauma Violence Abuse. 2016 Oct;17(4):366-86. doi: 10.1177/1524838016658878.

Maltreatment in Infancy: A Developmental Perspective on Prevention and Intervention.

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University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA.


Burgeoning research has documented high rates of maltreatment during the first 3 years of life. Early exposure to maltreatment is related to a host of negative physical, developmental, and mental health outcomes in childhood and adulthood. Scientists have documented the "biological embedding" of maltreatment, including alterations in the structures and processes of the young brain. Maltreatment is a complex phenomenon, which manifests in contexts of family poverty, inadequate parental knowledge and skill regarding child development and caregiving, social isolation of parents, disruptions in parent-child relationships, compromised parental psychological functioning, and concrete issues that affect parenting. Capitalizing on research on young child maltreatment, interventions have been designed to ameliorate infant/toddler maltreatment, buffer young children against the effects of maltreatment, and promote the well-being of maltreated young children. There is a growing empirical base on interventions to address early maltreatment within the context of a public health prevention framework. Primary prevention programs aim to reduce the incidence of maltreatment and related outcomes for infants, toddlers, and their families through the implementation of population-based programs, such as home visiting and early care and education programs. Secondary prevention models target families with specific risk factors associated with maltreatment, such as maternal depression. Tertiary programs generally entail involuntary services, designed to prevent maltreatment recurrence and to improve parenting skills through therapeutic approaches targeting the parent-child dyad. Empirical knowledge about maltreated young children and their families and interventions to support them can inform the design and delivery of child welfare services.


child abuse; intergenerational transmission of trauma; prevention of child abuse

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