Emotional abuse in early childhood: relationships with progress in subsequent family placement


Cherilyn Dance, Research Co-ordinator, Maudsley Family Research Studies, Section of Social Work and Social Care, Health Services Research Dept, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK; Email: c.dance@iop.kcl.ac.uk


Background: Several studies of family placements have indicated poorer outcomes for singly placed children. Two of our own studies have additionally shown that late placements of children who were actively singled out from siblings and alone in the care system were at increased risk of poor progress in the first year. Method: This paper draws on the data available for singly placed children from both studies to explore this phenomenon in more detail. The current analyses are limited by the fact that neither study was designed specifically to explore the effect of singling out or parental rejection, rather it emerged as a characteristic of potential explanatory importance. Results: The findings suggest that a history of being singled out or `preferentially rejected' by birth parents, particularly in combination with `false affection' from the child and lower levels of sensitivity in the new parents, was associated with poorer outcomes in the first year. Such children were more likely to show deteriorating behaviour patterns and to have more problems in forming satisfactory relationships with new family members. Conclusions: Older age at placement was associated with poorer outcome, but only significantly so among those children not classified as false in their displays of affection.