It is increasingly recognised that experiences of child maltreatment are rarely isolated incidents; different forms of abuse often co-occur, and trauma often develops over prolonged periods.
This paper provides practitioners, policy-makers and researchers with an overview of a number of influential recent approaches to conceptualising, recognising and responding to the complexity of child maltreatment and trauma.
One of the most recent major shifts in the focus of child maltreatment research has been recognition of the interrelatedness of childhood victimisation experiences. Two main frameworks have been developed to better understand and measure this interrelatedness: multi-type maltreatment and polyvictimisation.
Alongside this shift, has been the growing recognition in the fields of traumatology and psychiatry that traditional mental health diagnoses often do not adequately capture the effects of chronic and/or multiple types of victimisation. Complex trauma and cumulative harm are both popular models that account for complexity in traumatic outcomes.
Researchers investigating the consequences of a specific form of victimisation should account for the effects of other victimisation experiences, as well as for the effects of cumulative experiences.
Practice and policy responses to children who experience single maltreatment events should be different to those for children who experience multiple maltreatment events. Survivors of multiple maltreatment events are more likely to experience complex trauma and the negative effects of cumulative harm, both of which require more comprehensive intervention and treatment.