Exploring the Link Between Child Abuse and Brain Chemistry

Apr 11, 2011

Host:  Joseph Pace

Producer: Susan Britton

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3 million cases of child abuse and neglect are reported each year to state and local authorities. With some studies estimating that as many as 1 in 7 children nationwide experience some form of abuse each year, the number of reported cases may radically understate the magnitude of the problem. The consequences abused children suffer are serious and range from severe physical injury and death, to psychiatric disorders such as depression and PTSD, to heightened engagement in risky behaviors, including drug and alcohol use and high-risk sex. Add to that, a growing body of evidence links abuse and other so-called adverse childhood events with increased risk of profound and chronic health problems in adulthood, including heart disease, weakened immune systems, and cancer.

As doctors and researchers begin to unravel the complex mechanisms that lead to these long-term health effects, how can physicians and child advocacy groups use this information to better recognize and treat child abuse victims? Can caregivers hope to be able to "heal" the effects of abuse? And how can this paradigm inform broader child abuse prevention strategies?


  • Katie Albright, Executive Director of the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center, a private, non-profit agency that is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and neglect, the promotion of healthy families and the mental health of children.
  • Nadine Burke, Medical Director of CPMC’s Bayview Child Health Center. Her work to address the long term impact of child abuse was the subject of a recent article in the New Yorker entitled "The Poverty Clinic."
  • Victor Carrion, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University. He is also the Director of Stanford's Early Life Stress Research Program and a member of the faculty of the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

Additional resources:
To learn more about child abuse, receive support or make a referral, call San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center's 24-hour TALK Line at (415) 441-KIDS (5437)