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Child Abuse and the Effects on Adolescent Well Being


A 2012 Report of the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence stated that violence, crime, abuse or psychological trauma will affect 46 million children in this country this year. Children in foster care are more likely to have been exposed to multiple forms of traumatic experiences, such as physical or sexual abuse, neglect, family and/or community violence, trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation, bullying, or loss of loved ones. In addition to the circumstances of abuse or neglect that caused their removal, there are the added stressors of separation from family, friends, and community, as well as the uncertainty of their future.

Adolescents are affected both by maltreatment which occurred during childhood with lingering effects and by maltreatment that continues into or begins in adolescence. Sexually abused teens suffer shame and self-blame which can dramatically affect their romantic relationships in the adolescent years and over the course of their lives. They feel less capable of forming satisfying relationships with peers, friends, and potential romantic partners. Abused teens are also more likely to show dating aggression.

The many risks associated with maltreatment include alterations in an adolescent’s physical health, impaired psychosocial functioning, mental health conditions, and changes in brain architecture.

With regard to physical health, maltreatment almost doubles the danger of overall poor health, increasing the risks of asthma, obesity and traumatic brain injuries, to name but a few.

In addition to physical health, the mental health of these adolescents can be severely damaged as well. Numerous studies have demonstrated that experiencing abuse as a child can lead to a range of internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. They are at higher risk for attachment disorders, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideas, self-injurious behavior and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Teens abused as children are more likely to exhibit delinquency and violence perpetration. Also, impaired psychosocial functions result in:

  • Binge Drinking
  • Running Away
  • Smoking
  • Fighting
  • Substance Abuse
  • Carrying Weapons
  • Sexualized Behaviors at a Younger Age
  • Violence

Perhaps even more upsetting is that maltreatment in childhood can actually cause changes in the structure of the brain itself, resulting in lessened academic performance, impairment in cognitive processing, language problems, and, as mentioned above, mental and physical health issues.

Being a teen can be hard under the most normal circumstances. Helping an adolescent make it through this difficult period is a very rewarding experience. You can potentially change a young life for the better, maybe even keep a kid out of trouble or prevent them from making harmful decisions. How can I do that, you ask? Become a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate). As a volunteer Advocate, you will speak for abused and neglected children, making sure your child or adolescent’s best interest is heard in an over-burdened child welfare system.

One of our volunteers said of his experience with a young man named Thomas, who became a success story, “I just wanted to get him through. He needed to have someone consistent in his life. Someone who would be there for him and not judge him.” Joe continues, “Unconditional love – it’s so powerful, and that’s what I showed Thomas. He hadn’t experienced that in a long time.”

Our volunteers come from all walks of life…and are very special people indeed. Sign up now to help a youth grow into a happy adult.

Learn more about Volunteering with CASA >