Victims Likely to Engage in Criminality Later in Life?

Are victims of child abuse more likely to engage in criminality later in life?
Victims of child abuse are likely to experience a wide variety of negative outcomes throughout their lives. Involvement in criminal activity is one. For children, the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being found that children placed in out-of-home care due to abuse or neglect tended to score lower than the general population on measures of cognitive capacity, language development, and academic achievement (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003).

Other studies have found abuse and neglected children to be at least 25% more likely to experience problems such as delinquency, teen pregnancy, low academic achievement, drug use, and mental health problems.

In one long-term study of young adults who had been abused, as many as 80% met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21. These young adults exhibited many problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts (Silverman, Reinherz, & Giaconia, 1996). Other psychological and emotional conditions associated with abuse and neglect include panic disorder, dissociative disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and reactive attachment disorder (Teicher, 2000).

The challenges that victims experience continue as they move into adulthood. The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics reports the following adult statistics for 2002:

• 31% of jail inmates had grown up with a parent or guardian who abused alcohol or drugs.
• About 12% had lived in a foster home or institution.
• 46% had a family member who had been incarcerated.
• More than 50% of the women in jail said they had been physically or sexually abused in the past, and more than 10% of the men.
• The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that nearly two-thirds of all adults entering treatment for drug abuse report being victims of child abuse or neglect.

Is there any evidence linking alcohol or other drug use to child maltreatment?
There is significant research that demonstrates this connection. Research has shown that among confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect, 40% involved the use of alcohol or other drugs (Journal of American Medical Association, and Children of Alcoholics). Substance abuse does not cause child abuse and neglect, but it is a distinct factor in its occurrence.

Can we prevent child abuse and neglect?
Yes, we can make a difference. There are many types of prevention programs across the country. Research has shown that effective programs share similar elements, such as working with families early and on a long-term, intensive basis. Effective programs offer assistance with family problems, refer families to outside supports when needed, and have a structured framework for staff in working with families. These elements are found in The National Exchange Club Parent Aide program, which is offered at all Exchange Club Child Abuse Prevention Centers across the country.