Methods: The study investigated children whose initial report was not substantiated (N = 353). Data were obtained from the Longitudinal Studies on Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN). All children were followed from initial recruitment at age 4 (as baseline) until they turned 10. Children’s average age at the initial report was 1.75 years (SD = 2.4), 50% were boys and 35% were White. The key independent variable included three groups: a) children who were reported only once (n = 53; 15%); b) children who were re-reported but not substantiated (n = 108; 31%); and c) children who were re-reported and substantiated (n = 192; 54%). Child internalizing and externalizing problems, as dependent variables, were measured by the Child Behavior Checklist at ages 4, 6, 8, and 10. A multilevel modeling approach was used to answer the research question. The multilevel structure was four age points nested in each child.
Results: The results of multilevel longitudinal analysis revealed that children who were re-reported but not substantiated had higher risk levels of internalizing problems (β = 3.22, p = 0.007) and have more externalizing problems (β = 2.84, p = 0.046) over time compared to children who were reported and substantiated. Primary caregivers’ depression symptoms contributed to children’s internalizing problems (β = 2.78, p = 0.025). In addition, primary caregivers’ poor physical health conditions (β = 1.17, p = 0.032) were positively associated with children’s externalizing problems. No statistically significant differences in behavioral problems were identified between children who were reported only once and children were reported and substantiated.
Conclusions and Implications: The findings suggest that early experiences with reporting and maltreatment influences the child’s behavioral outcomes. Children who were re-reported but not substantiated had higher risk levels of internalizing and externalizing problems over time, compared to children who were reported and substantiated. Child welfare workers should pay attention to this particular group of children since these children are at higher risk to develop behavior problems over time. Providing early mental health intervention and prevention services for these children and their caregivers is critical. This group of children should be monitored and assessed for treatment needs as they grow older, because the child behavior problems may emerge over time.