Published: November 11, 2020

Maclean, M. J., Taylor, C. L., & O’Donnell, M. (2020). Adolescent education outcomes and maltreatment: The role of pre-existing adversity, level of child protection involvement, and school attendance. Child Abuse & Neglect109, 104721. DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2020.104721


Miriam J Maclean, Catherine L Taylor, and Melissa O’Donnell


Maltreated children are at high risk for low educational achievement, however few studies have accounted for confounding risk factors that commonly co-occur (including child, family and neighbourhood risk factors) and results have been mixed, particularly for adolescents.

We aimed to 1) examine the relationship between maltreatment and low educational achievement among Year 9 students, taking into account child, family and neighbourhood risk factors; 2) assess subgroup differences in outcomes based on level of child protection involvement and maltreatment type; and 3) identify prevalence and risk factors for low educational achievement.

Participants and setting
A population birth cohort of West Australian children (N = 33,866) who sat national reading achievement tests between 2008 and 2010 was used for the main analysis.

Linked administrative data from Departments of Health, Communities (Child Protection and Family Support), Education, and the Disability Services Commission was used to conduct a series of logistic regression analyses.

Maltreatment was significantly associated with low Year 9 achievement, even after accounting for many child, family and neighbourhood risk factors (aOR 1.51, 95 % CI 1.35–1.69). Educational outcomes were consistently poor across subgroups in the child protection system, including those with different levels of child protection involvement and maltreatment types. Other notable risk factors for low achievement included intellectual disability, attendance, parents’ level of education, Aboriginality, and being older (indicating possible grade retention).

Adolescents with a history of maltreatment are at risk for poor educational outcomes and need additional support. Multiple contributing risk factors suggest the need for whole-of-government solutions.