Parsing the Effects Violence Exposure in Early Childhood: Modeling Developmental Pathways

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Objective To prospectively examine pathways from early childhood violence exposure and trauma-related symptoms to school-age emotional health. Methods A longitudinal, birth cohort (N = 437) was assessed with parent reports of lifetime violence exposure and trauma-related symptoms at 3 years of age and later, internalizing and externalizing symptoms, and social competence at school age. Results Early family and neighborhood violence correlated significantly with early trauma-related symptoms and also significantly predicted school-age internalizing and externalizing symptoms and poorer competence, independent of sociodemographic risk and past-year violence exposure. Longitudinal pathways were significantly mediated by arousal and avoidance symptoms at 3 years of age, which increased risk for clinically significant emotional problems and lower competence at school age (adjusted odds ratios = 3.1–6.1, p < 0.01). Conclusions Trauma-related symptoms may mediate developmental pathways from early violence exposure to later emotional health. Interventions that prevent or reduce early trauma-related symptoms may ameliorate the long-term deleterious impact of violence exposure.

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