Methods: This study follows 6,282 children for between 12 and 18 years. Administrative service records with exact dates allow for prospective analyses. The present study uses an ecological framework and draws on the literature relating allostatic load to health outcomes as a potential mechanism for the effect of maltreatment on child and adolescent health outcomes. Other potential risks and stressors are controlled statistically, including known infant or congenital conditions that might explain later health outcomes independent of stressors. Bivariate, Cox and negative binomial regression statistics are used to explore risk of negative health outcomes for maltreated and nonmaltreated children controlling for individual, family and community stressors.
Results: Children with maltreatment reports had 74% higher (asthma) to double (cardiorespiratory and infection) the risk of hospital care. Recurrent reports of maltreatment were associated with heightened risk of any disease category as well as total count of hospital care episodes. The change in expected count of hospital care for any of the three disease categories was about 3% per additional report of maltreatment while controlling for maltreatment type (any neglect vs. abuse), age at first maltreatment report, substantiation of the first report, demographic characteristics, and infant/congenital health risk.
Conclusions and Implications: Our study suggests that the negative health impact of maltreatment can be detected during childhood. This has implications for pediatric screening for maltreatment and for increased attention to the health care needs of children reported for maltreatment. Findings also suggest the benefit of preventing infant and congenital health problems.