Child maltreatment and the development of psychopathology: The role of developmental timing and chronicity

Justin Russotti, Jennifer M. Warmingham, Erinn B. Duprey, Elizabeth D. Handley, Jody T. Manly, Fred A. Rogosch, Dante Cicchetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Background: The effects of child maltreatment (CM) on psychopathology are well-established, yet the complex effects of timing and chronicity of maltreatment exposure on the development of psychopathology are still unclear. Objective: To elucidate developmental pathways from distinct dimensions of CM (chronicity and timing) to psychopathology during emerging adulthood using data from a longitudinal, multi-method study. Participants and setting: Children with and without maltreatment exposure were recruited at wave 1 (ages 10–12) to participate in a research summer camp. At wave 2, participants were recontacted during emerging adulthood (ages 18–22). The current study includes 391 participants (51.3% female; 77.5% Black, 11.3% white, 7.4% Hispanic, 3.8% other race). Methods: Timing and chronicity of maltreatment exposures were coded from child protective services records using the Maltreatment Classification System. Childhood internalizing and externalizing symptoms were assessed using child- and camp counselor-report. Emerging adults completed self-report questionnaires and were interviewed about their current and past symptoms of psychopathology. Structural equation modeling was used to estimate direct and indirect links between childhood maltreatment dimensions (chronicity and timing) to adult psychopathology via childhood internalizing and externalizing. Results: Child maltreatment experiences that spanned several developmental periods, including both early and later childhood stages, predicted a cascade of both internalizing and externalizing symptoms in childhood that eventuated in greater symptoms of anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, and antisocial personality disorder in emerging adulthood. Conclusions: Results suggest that chronic childhood maltreatment exposure is associated with multifinality in psychopathology presentations that can be detected in childhood and extend into emerging adulthood. Early prevention and intervention efforts to promote positive and safe parenting are essential to decrease the burden of mental health symptoms conferred by chronic maltreatment exposures on individuals, families, and public health systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105215
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants received from the National Institute on Drug Abuse ( R01DA17741 ), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development ( P50-HD096698 ), and the Spunk Fund, Inc.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • Child maltreatment
  • Chronicity
  • Developmental psychopathology
  • Timing


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