To grow into competent and productive adults, children must learn to regulate their emotions and their behavior, to form a coherent, positive sense of self, and toform and maintain relationships with other people. A substantial body of evidence indicates that consistent, responsive parenting contributes to children's ability to master these developmental tasks (Lord, Eccles, & McCarthy, 1994; Raver, 1996). In maltreating families, however, parental care does not meet children's basic needs for physical sustenance and protection, emotional security, and social interaction. Thus, maltreatment constitutes a significant deviation from the average expectable or species-typical environment, as defined by community norms and by medical, legal, and social scientific standards (National Research Council, 1993). Developmental theory on the influence of early caregiving predicts that such conditions predispose children to a variety of difficulties in adjustment and adaptation (Cicchetti & Lynch, 1995; Scarr, 1992).
Empirical evidence supports this contention: Maltreatment during childhood is associated with an increased risk for internalizing problems, such as depression and anxiety (Lynch & Cicchetti, 1998; McGee, Wolfe, & Wilson, 1997; Toth, Manly, & Cicchetti, 1992), and externalizing problems including aggression, delinquency, and antisocial behavior (Herrenkohl, Egolf, & Herrenkohl, 1997; Widom, 1989). Maltreated children encounter more difficulties in developing autonomy and self-esteem (Egeland, Sroufe, & Erickson, 1983) and in relationships with others, including peers (Cicchetti, Lynch, Shonk, & Manly, 1992; Rogosch, Cicchetti, & Aber, 1995; Salzinger, Feldman, Hammer, & Rosario, 1993).