NATIONAL CHILD ABUSE COALITION
FACTS ABOUT CHILD ABUSE
|Document Author: National Child Abuse Coalition, 733 15th Street, NW, Suite 938 Washington, DC 20005, 202/347-366|
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Reports of abused and neglected children:
Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities
Characteristics of Child Abuse and Neglect Cases
The costs and consequences of child abuse
In 1995, 3,102,000 children were reported as abused or neglected in the United
States, according to a state-by-state survey conducted by the National Committee
to Prevent Child Abuse (NCPCA). Overall, the total number of reports of child
abuse and neglect nationwide increased 49% since 1986.
The number of actual child abuse and neglect cases (reported and unreported)
nearly doubled between 1986 and 1993, according to the Third National Incidence
Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, mandated by Congress and released in
September, 1996, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
During the same time period, the total number of children seriously injured
While the total number of child abuse and neglect cases cited by the National
Incidence Study rose from an estimated 1.4 million in 1986 to an estimated 2.8
million in 1993, the actual number of cases investigated by state agencies
remained the same, resulting in a decline in the proportion of cases that were
investigated from 44 percent in 1986 to 28 percent in 1993.
In a 1995 Gallup poll of parents, reports of physical abuse were about 16 times
higher than the number or reports officially recorded, and reports of sexual
abuse were some 10 times higher than the officially reported number.
Physical abuse or severe neglect ended in the death of an estimated 1,215
children in 1995, according to the survey conducted by the National Committee to
Prevent Child Abuse. NCPCA reports that child abuse fatalities increased by 39%
from 1985 to 1995. Children under age 5 accounted for 85% of the deaths while
45% were under the age of one year at the time of death.
The HHS U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect stated in its 1995
report, "A Nation's Shame: Fatal Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States,"
that conservative estimates indicate almost 2,000 infant and child deaths from
abuse and neglect each year, or 5 children every day. The Advisory Board
reported that deaths from abuse and neglect of children age 4 and under
outnumber those from falls, choking on food, suffocation, drowning, residential
fires, and motor vehicle accidents.
The U.S. Advisory Board reported that near-fatal abuse and neglect each year
leave "18,000 permanently disabled children, tens of thousands of victims
overwhelmed by lifelong psychological trauma, thousands of traumatized siblings
and family members, and thousands of near-death survivors who, as adults,
continue to bear the physical and psychological scars. Some may turn to crime or
domestic violence or become abusers themselves."
In substantiated cases of abused and neglected children for 1993, as reported by
the HHS National Center on child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN), 49% of the child
victims suffered from neglect, 24% physical abuse, 14% sexual abuse, 5%
emotional abuse, 2% medical neglect, and 15% other forms of maltreatment.
Fifty-one percent of the children were ages 7 and under, with just over 26% 3
years or age or younger. Perpetrators continued to be those with whom the child
lives--nearly nine out of every 10 perpetrators of child maltreatment
investigated are either the child's parent or other relative.
The NCCAN data indicate that slightly more than half of child abuse and neglect
reports are unsubstantiated after investigation. According to the NCCAN survey,
intentionally false reports comprised about 6 percent of unsubstantiated
reports. Cases are labeled "unsubstantiated" for other reasons as well,
including: insufficient documentation; maltreatment was not serious enough to
warrant protective services; the family voluntarily requested services; the
family left the jurisdiction; or the case was referred to another agency.
Substance abuse and economic stress are the two most frequently cited problems
in families reported for child maltreatment, according to the NCPCA survey.
Accompanying problems of poor housing and limited community resources were also
common among those families. In addition, child protective service agencies
reported that abusive and neglecting parents frequently lack parenting skills
due to various mental health problems, poor understanding of a child's normal
development, or young age of the mother.
Counseling and family support services, such as parent aid, parenting education,
and child care are the services most commonly provided by child protective
services to children and families after a case has been substantiated.
Unfortunately, almost one-fourth of all abused or neglected children received no
services at all in 1995, according to NCPCA, and experts suggest that high
quality therapeutic services are provided to only a fraction of maltreated
children. Only 5 percent of all children reported for maltreatment were removed
from their homes; 22 percent of the children in substantiated cases were placed
in foster care.
Each case of child abuse generally costs $2,000 or more just for an
investigation and short-term placement, an estimated annual national expense of
$3 billion. When a child must be hospitalized or put in foster care or a parent
incarcerated, the costs go up.
In 1993, the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse estimated that the annual
cost of child welfare, health care, and out-of-home care for abused and
neglected children totaled $9 billion, at minimum. The total is only a partial
accounting of child maltreatment expenses because it does not include other
costs related to child abuse that have a significant impact on public policies
and budgets such as long-term physical and mental impairment, emergency room
care, lost productivity, family reunification services, cost of special
education services, and costs to adjudicate child abuse cases.
Because of what we know about the consequences of child abuse, the prevention of
child abuse can go a long way toward preventing physically and mentally
disabling conditions in children and adults, reducing juvenile delinquency and
the numbers of teenagers who run away, ending adolescent drug and alcohol
addiction, and keeping young people from the trap of prostitution and
A 1995 study of homeless people, found that many of them, especially homeless
women, reported serious family problems or a history of sexual or physical abuse
as children that predisposed them to homelessness as an adult. The study, funded
by the National Institute of Mental Health, contends that homelessness is more a
result of identifiable childhood problems than a consequence of disorders such
as substance abuse or psychiatric problems that emerge in adulthood.
Child abuse prevention fights crime. According to a 1992 U.S. Department of
Justice report, "The Cycle of Violence," 68% of youths arrested had a prior
history of abuse and neglect. The Study also indicated that childhood abuse
increased the odds of future delinquency and adult criminality overall by 40
Abused and neglected girls fare worse; the study found that girls who were
abused and neglected in childhood were 77 percent more likely to be arrested as
juveniles. In addition, male and female youths abused or neglected were more
likely to be arrested than youths who were not abused or neglected.
The National Council on Crime and Delinquency, in its 1990 report "Juveniles
Taken Into Custody," recognized that, "Youths with histories of severe abuse and
neglect are much more likely to become chronic and serious juvenile offenders"
and recommended that the federal government begin to explore "conducting home
visits for children born in high risk pregnancies (e.g., drug addicted mothers),
at least during their first year of life."