Since the correlates and consequences of child neglect are poorly understood, even though it is the most prevalent form of child maltreatment, particularly during early adulthood, this current multi-wave, longitudinal study sought to address this gap in the literature by examining physical and emotional neglect in emerging adults in a diverse community sample.
A total of 580 adolescents (AgeMean = 18.25; AgeSD = 0.59; 58.3 percent female; 31 percent Hispanic, 28.9 percent Caucasian; 26.2 percent African-American; 13.9 percent other) completed self-report measures for child maltreatment at baseline, along with measures for depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and substance use every year for 3 years. For analyses, the study used both variable-centered (mixed-level modeling) and person-centered (latent profile analysis) analyses to determine how physical and emotional neglect relate to other forms of maltreatment and to determine physical and emotional neglect's unique impact on prospective mental health functioning. These person-centered analyses revealed that a three-profile model provided the best solution for the data ("No Trauma," "Abuse", and "Neglect"). In longitudinal analyses, the "neglect" group had significantly elevated scores compared to the "no trauma" group on all outcomes except alcohol use (p < 0.01). Results of the variable-centered analyses showed comparable findings between physical and emotional neglect, with higher scores corresponding to elevated symptoms of depression, PTSD, illicit substance use, and cigarette use over time (p < 0.01). These results suggest that early neglect-exposure poses a risk for the subsequent development of internalizing symptoms and substance use behaviors among emerging adults. (Publisher abstract modified)