UQ researcher Emeritus Professor Jake Najman said the 20-year study found neglected children had the highest rates of teen pregnancy, and were at a three-to five-fold increased risk of failing school, unemployment, anxiety, depression, psychosis and cannabis abuse problems.
‘Neglected children experience higher rates of teen pregnancy, immorality, cannabis abuse and visual hallucinations as a result of their maltreatment.’
“Although most children in our study experienced multiple types of maltreatment, child neglect and emotional abuse were specifically linked to the worst outcomes,” says Emeritus Professor Najman.
Child neglect is defined as not giving necessary physical requirements (food, clothing or a safe place to sleep) and emotional requirements (comfort and emotional support) to the child, as determined by the Queensland Government’s Department of Child Safety.
“Emotionally abused kids were particularly prone to experiencing harassment, psychosis and injecting drugs,” he said.
Emeritus Professor Najman initiated the data project called Mater Hospital-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy (MUSP) in 1981.
The study, conducted by UQ medical school and PhD graduate Dr Lane Strathearn, anonymously linked the data with state government reports of child abuse and neglect to examine how child maltreatment was associated with a broad range of outcomes over two decades, including cognitive, educational, psychological, sexual and physical health, and addiction.
“Sexual abuse victims experienced early sexual activity, teen pregnancy, depressive symptoms, and post-traumatic stress disorder, but to a lesser severity than neglected children,” he said.
Physical abuse results in criminality and externalizing behavior problems as well as drug abuse and should strongly be prevented.
Other studies reveal that simple interventions, such as nurses visiting homes of pregnant women and new mothers, can mitigate child maltreatment and help prevent some of the negative outcomes.