Library: Abuse



Document Author: National Child Abuse Coalition, 733 15th Street, NW, Suite 938 Washington, DC 20005, 202/347-366
Quick Link to Document Topics:
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

Reports of abused and neglected children:

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.


Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities


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."


Characteristics of Child Abuse and Neglect Cases


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.


The costs and consequences of child abuse


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."