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Behavioural Features

The following is a summary of the systematic review findings up to the date of our most recent literature search. If you have a specific clinical case, we strongly recommend you read all of the relevant references as cited and look for additional material published outside our search dates.


16 studies (19 publications) addressed behavioural features 1-19 (overlapping data between 13&14, and 5-7)


14 different tools were used to assess behaviour; of these, the CBCL (Child Behaviour Checklist) was the most commonly used


Externalising features (aggressive / assaultive / destructive / anti-social / delinquent behaviour)


  • This was the most commonly described feature among those experiencing neglect 3,4,13,14,16,17 or emotional abuse 3,11,14
  • Children experiencing physical neglect exhibited more externalising behaviour than those experiencing supervisory neglect 15
  • One study showed that the neglected children had more disciplinary problems and school suspensions than controls, implying disruptive behaviour 12
  • Three studies showed no difference between neglected / emotionally abused (EA) children and controls 1,10,18
  • Older neglected children exhibited severe behavioural problems compared to controls 9


Internalising features (withdrawn / anxiety / depression / somatic complaints)


  • Seven studies 2,4,10,14,15,17,19 investigated an association with internalising features
  • Neglect 2,15,18 or emotional maltreatment and neglect 14,17 were found to be positively associated with one study 2 highlighting that the neglected children felt that others were in control of their life rather than themselves
  • Children experiencing physical neglect had more externalising problems than those experiencing supervisory neglect 15
  • Two studies did not identify any association between neglect and internalising features 4,10


Features overlapping with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)


  • Five articles 4-6,8,14 noted that the neglected or emotionally maltreated children exhibited impulsivity, inattention, hyperactivity, among children aged 6-12 years




  • Two articles 5,7 evaluated attachment, showing that children who were neglected were significantly more likely to demonstrate anxious ambivalent attachment


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  1. Alink LR, Cicchetti D, Kim J, Rogosch FA. Longitudinal associations among child maltreatment, social functioning, and cortisol regulation. Developmental Psychology. 2012;48(1):224-36 [Pubmed]

  2. Bolger KE, Patterson CJ. Pathways from child maltreatment to internalizing problems: perceptions of control as mediators and moderators. Developmental Psychopathology. 2001;13(4):913-40 [Pubmed]

  3. Cullerton-Sen C, Cassidy AR, Murray-Close D, Cicchetti D, Crick NR, Rogosch FA. Childhood maltreatment and the development of relational and physical aggression: the importance of a gender-informed approach. Child Development. 2008;79(6):1736-51 [Pubmed]

  4. De Paúl J, Arruabarrena MI. Behavior problems in school-aged physically abused and neglected children in Spain. Child Abuse & Neglect. 1995;19(4):409-18 [Pubmed]

  5. Finzi R, Har-Even D, Shnit D, Weizman A. Psychosocial characterization of physically abused children from low socioeconomic households in comparison to neglected and nonmaltreated children. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2002;11(4):441-453 [Abstract available from Springer Link]

  6. Finzi R, Har-Even D, Weizman A. Comparison of ego defenses among physically abused children, neglected, and non-maltreated children. Comprehensive Psychiatry. 2003;44(5):388-95 [Pubmed]

  7. Finzi R, Ram A, Har-Even D, Shbit D, Weizman A. Attachment styles and aggression in physically abused and neglected children. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 2001;30,(6):769-786 [Abstract available from Springer Link]

  8. Fishbein D, Warner T, Krebs C, Trevarthen N, Flannery B, Hammond J. Differential relationships between personal and community stressors and children's neurocognitive functioning. Child Maltreatment. 2009;14(4):299-315 [Pubmed]

  9. Kantor GK, Holt MK, Mebert CJ, Straus MA, Drach KM, Ricci LR, MacAllum CA, Brown W. Development and preliminary psychometric properties of the multidimensional neglectful behavior scale-child report. Child Maltreatment. 2004;9(4):409-28 [Pubmed]

  10. Kaufman J, Cicchetti D. Effects of maltreatment on school-age children's socioemotional development: Assessments in a day-camp setting. Developmental Psychology. 1989;25(4):516-524 [Abstract available from APAPsychNET]

  11. Kaufman J, Jones B, Stieglitz E, Vitulano L, Mannarino AP. The use of multiple informants to assess children's maltreatment experiences. Journal of Family Violence. 1994;9(3):227-248 [Abstract available from Springer Link]

  12. Kendall-Tackett KA, Eckenrode J. The effects of neglect on academic achievement and disciplinary problems: a developmental perspective. Child Abuse & Neglect. 1996;20(3):161-9 [Pubmed]

  13. Manly JT, Cicchetti D, Barnett D. The impact of subtype, frequency, chronicity, and severity of child maltreatment on social competence and behavior problems. Development and Psychopathology. 1994;6(1):121-143 [Abstract available from Cambridge Journals Online]

  14. Manly JT, Kim JE, Rogosch FA, Cicchetti D. Dimensions of child maltreatment and children's adjustment: contributions of developmental timing and subtype. Development & Psychopathology. 2001;13(4):759-82 [Pubmed]

  15. Petrenko CL, Friend A, Garrido EF, Taussig HN, Culhane SE. Does subtype matter? Assessing the effects of maltreatment on functioning in preadolescent youth in out-of-home care. Child Abuse & Neglect. 2012;36(9):633-644 [Pubmed]

  16. Reidy TJ. The aggressive characteristics of abused and neglected children. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 1977;33(4):1140-5 [Pubmed]

  17. Reyome ND. A comparison of the school performance of sexually abused, neglected and non-maltreated children. Child Study Journal. 1993;23(1):17-38 [Abstract available from APAPsycNET]

  18. Shields A, Cicchetti D. Reactive aggression among maltreated children: the contributions of attention and emotion dysregulation. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology. 1998;27(4):381-95 [Pubmed]

  19. Valentino K, Cicchetti D, Rogosch FA, Toth SL. Memory, maternal representations, and internalizing symptomatology among abused, neglected, and nonmaltreated children. Child Development. 2008;79(3):705-719 [Pubmed]




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