Methods: An ethnically diverse urban sample of 303 adolescents with a documented history of maltreatment was recruited. Detailed inspections of the child protective service files were conducted and determined that 152 adolescents had experienced physical abuse. Eighty-six adolescents experienced neglect, but not physical or sexual abuse. The mean age of the sample was 10.9 years at the first measurement point. Adolescents completed the Children's Depression Inventory and the Youth Self-Report at two time points separated by 1.5 years. Latent variable cross-lagged panel analyses were conducted with demographic covariates to examine the longitudinal relationships between depression and externalizing behavior. A multiple-group structural equation model was fit to determine if the patterns of risk are similar for neglected and physically abused adolescents.
Results: The model exhibited good fit to the data and revealed that neglected and physically abused adolescents showed somewhat different patterns of risk. Autoregressive effects for externalizing behavior and depression were moderately strong and similar in both groups. Earlier depression was not predictive of later externalizing behavior in either group. Among the neglected group, earlier externalizing behavior was a significant predictor of subsequent depression (standardized beta = .31; unstandardized regression weight = .21; p < .05), after controlling for previous depression level and relevant covariates, but was non-significant for the physically abused group.
Conclusions and Implications: The findings highlight both similarities and important differences in the developmental course of depression and externalizing behavior amongst physically abused and neglected youth. Results suggest that during this developmental phase, depression and externalizing behavior exhibit moderate longitudinal stability and these patterns are similar for neglected and physically abused young adolescents. Notably, neglected adolescents who exhibit early externalizing behavior appear especially vulnerable to subsequent externalizing behavior and later depression. Such findings highlight the powerful consequences of neglect and underscore the need for careful delineation of various forms of child maltreatment.