Does subtype matter? Assessing the effects of maltreatment on functioning in preadolescent youth in out-of-home care

Christie L M Petrenko, Angela Friend, Edward F Garrido, Heather N Taussig, Sara E Culhane
Child Abuse & Neglect 2012, 36 (9): 633-44

OBJECTIVES: Attempts to understand the effects of maltreatment subtypes on childhood functioning are complicated by the fact that children often experience multiple subtypes. This study assessed the effects of maltreatment subtypes on the cognitive, academic, and mental health functioning of preadolescent youth in out-of-home care using both "variable-centered" and "person-centered" statistical analytic approaches to modeling multiple subtypes of maltreatment.

METHODS: Participants included 334 preadolescent youth (ages 9-11) placed in out-of-home care due to maltreatment. The occurrence and severity of maltreatment subtypes (physical abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and supervisory neglect) were coded from child welfare records. The relationships between maltreatment subtypes and children's cognitive, academic, and mental health functioning were evaluated with the following approaches: (1) "Variable-centered" analytic methods: a. Regression approach: Multiple regression was used to estimate the effects of each maltreatment subtype (separate analyses for occurrence and severity), controlling for the other subtypes. b. Hierarchical approach: Contrast coding was used in regression analyses to estimate the effects of discrete maltreatment categories that were assigned based on a subtype occurrence hierarchy (sexual abuse > physical abuse > physical neglect > supervisory neglect). (2) "Person-centered" analytic method: Latent class analysis was used to group children with similar maltreatment severity profiles into discrete classes. The classes were then compared to determine if they differed in terms of their ability to predict functioning.

RESULTS: The approaches identified similar relationships between maltreatment subtypes and children's functioning. The most consistent findings indicated that maltreated children who experienced physical or sexual abuse were at highest risk for caregiver-reported externalizing behavior problems, and those who experienced physical abuse and/or physical neglect were more likely to have higher levels of caregiver-reported internalizing problems. Children experiencing predominantly low severity supervisory neglect had relatively better functioning than other maltreated youth.

CONCLUSIONS: Many of the maltreatment subtype differences identified within the maltreated sample in the current study are consistent with those from previous research comparing maltreated youth to non-maltreated comparison groups. Results do not support combining supervisory and physical neglect. The "variable-centered" and "person-centered" analytic approaches produced complementary results. Advantages and disadvantages of each approach are discussed.


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