Early child maltreatment and reading processes, abilities, and achievement: A systematic review

Amanda M. Ferrara, Casey A. Mullins, Samantha Ellner, Peggy Van Meter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Children with maltreatment histories demonstrate weaker reading abilities compared to their peers. However, the differential processes driving this effect remain unclear. Prior studies focused on social and behavioral factors explaining this effect, yet reading research has shown that one's ability to comprehend written text is driven by a set of underlying dynamic and interactive cognitive abilities. Objective: This systematic review sought to understand what theoretical or conceptual frameworks researchers cited as guiding their studies, what reading processes and abilities were studied as outcomes, how reading processes or abilities were measured, and what constructs were included to help understand the relationship between maltreatment and reading. Method: Three databases were searched for empirical peer-reviewed journal articles. Articles retained using inclusion and exclusion criteria were coded based on their sample characteristics, reference to theoretical or conceptual frameworks, reading processes and abilities measured, and included predictors of reading. Procedures were documented using the reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PRISMA) statement (Moher et al., 2009). Results: Twenty-seven studies were included in the final systematic review. Those that discussed theoretical or conceptual frameworks focused on the social and behavioral predictors of reading. Many studies (51.9 %) examined effects of maltreatment on reading achievement, rather than specific reading processes or abilities. Most studies (92.6 %) used at least one standardized reading measure. However, only four studies included cognitive abilities as potential predictor variables. Conclusions: Future research could benefit from investigating specific cognitive and reading-related processes, using measures to examine specific reading processes leading to breakdowns in reading achievement, and incorporation of reading theories to drive research questions and methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105857
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Aug 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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