Psychological maltreatment: An operationalized definition and path toward application

Amy M.Smith Slep, Danya Glaser, Jody Todd Manly

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


Psychological maltreatment (PM) of children has been difficult to define and even more challenging to operationalize consistently. This fact contributes to child PM being under-recognized and under-addressed by professionals that interact with children with mental health, behavioral, and developmental issues; and by systems such as child welfare, clinical and judicial systems. In this paper, we propose a definition of child PM that is both overarching and operationalized in a manner that will support consistent, fair, and unbiased application in applied contexts. The operationalized definition delineates the nature of caregiver acts that can amount to PM, as well as the level of experienced and potential impact of said act (s) that constitute PM. We detail our rationale for the definition. We discuss the need for field trials to establish the utility of the definition. We explain the necessary training and systems that would be required for the definition to be consistently and accurately applied. We believe that this definition has the potential to substantially enhance systems' abilities to recognize and address child PM, and thereby enhance children's and families' wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105882
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Child abuse
  • Child maltreatment
  • Definition
  • Emotional abuse
  • Emotional maltreatment
  • Emotional neglect
  • Psychological abuse
  • Psychological maltreatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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