Trauma-Related Symptoms in Neglected Preschoolers and Affective Quality of Mother-Child Communication

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Child Maltreatment, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp. 293–304.

This study examined the relationship between neglect in childhood and the manifestation of trauma-related symptoms during the preschool period. The final sample included 105 children, including 72 non-neglected children and 33 children who had experienced neglect, all of whom were from a Caucasian Francophone population living in Quebec. The neglected children were recruited from child protection agencies and were all receiving services for neglect at the time of the study. The comparison group of non-neglected children were mostly recruited from socioeconomically disadvantaged families in the community. The two groups did not differ on main demographic indicators, such as gender, child age, proportion of mothers on welfare, or annual family income. Mother-child dyads were observed once at home and once in a filmed laboratory visit. Measures of trauma symptoms were completed by mothers and teachers. The results indicate that according to teachers’ reports, children who had experienced neglect showed more symptoms of post-traumatic stress and dissociation than non-neglected children; interestingly, these two groups did not differ according to mothers’ reports of trauma symptoms. Mother-child dyads in the neglected group displayed poorer quality affective communication compared to dyads in the non-neglected group. Hierarchical regressions revealed that after controlling for the contribution of child neglect, lower quality dyadic communication between mother and child was associated with more teacher-reported post-traumatic stress symptoms in the child. The authors conclude that it may be helpful to examine child neglect from a trauma perspective.

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