Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) contributes to depression in several populations. However, there is a significant lack of longitudinal research on depressive symptoms among sexually abused adolescents involved in Child Protection Services (CPS). Given the systemic challenges in CPS research, it is also unclear as to whether depressive symptoms vary according to CSA severity.
The research aimed to determine whether depressive symptoms increased over time and to assess whether CSA severity predicted the variation of change in depressive symptoms over time.
Participants and setting
The study included 135 sexually abused adolescents (M = 16.01, 71.9 % female) from the Maltreatment and Adolescent Pathways (MAP) Longitudinal Study who were involved in three densely populated urban CPS agencies in Ontario, Canada.
The project involved the collection of self-report questionnaires to be completed every six-months for three years. The questionnaires encompassed measures on psychological outcomes, selected resiliency factors, and abuse and neglect history. Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) via mixed model analyses were used to estimate depressive symptom trajectories.
We found that depressive symptoms significantly reduced over time (β. = −3.62, p < .001). Furthermore, the results showed that CSA severity significantly predicted depressive symptoms over time (β = 0.19, p < .001).
The findings contrast previous longitudinal research in community-based samples, suggesting a different trajectory for depressive symptoms among sexually abused adolescents involved in CPS. Moreover, the results reveal a strong association between depressive symptoms and CSA severity, further supporting early mental health screening practices.