Child abuse and neglect indicators are broken into two broad categories: the rate of child abuse and neglect reports and the rate of substantiated cases. Generally speaking, most reports of child abuse are not in the end substantiated by Child Protective Services after an investigation. Typically, as the public becomes more aware of child maltreatment and how to report it, the rate of reports goes up. The rate of substantiated cases is generally a more accurate measure of the prevalence of abuse and neglect because it reflects verified reports. On kidsdata.org, reports and substantiated cases of child abuse/neglect are provided overall, and by age, race/ethnicity, and type of abuse.
Children who are abused or neglected, including those who witness domestic violence, often exhibit emotional, cognitive, and behavioral problems, such as anxiety, depression, suicidal behavior, difficulty in school, use of alcohol and other drugs, and early sexual activity (1, 2). Abuse, particularly experienced when children are young, causes stress that can disrupt early brain and physical development, placing mistreated young children at higher risk for health problems as adults (2, 3). Children who are abused or neglected also are more likely to repeat the cycle of violence by entering into violent relationships as teens and adults or abusing their own children (1). An estimated 681,000 U.S. children were victims of maltreatment in 2011, and approximately 1,570 of these children died from abuse or neglect (7).
Child abuse and neglect are underreported and occur in families of all socioeconomic levels and ethnic groups (4, 5). Major risk factors for child abuse/neglect victims include being under 4 years old and having special needs. Family and community risk factors include parental substance abuse, parental mental illness, major stress (e.g. poverty, social isolation), domestic violence, and unsafe neighborhoods (5, 6). Research shows that in 30% to 60% of homes with either domestic violence or child abuse cases, it is likely that both types of abuse are occurring (4).
For more information on child abuse see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
Sources for this narrative:
1. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2008). Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families Children’s Bureau. Retrieved from: http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/long_term_consequences.pdf
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. (2011). Child maltreatment: Consequences. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/childmaltreatment/consequences.html
3. Middlebrooks, J. S., & Audage, N. C. (2008). The effects of childhood stress on health across the lifespan. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/pub-res/pdf/Childhood_Stress.pdf
4. DePanfilis, D. (2006). Child neglect: A guide for prevention, assessment, and intervention. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, Children’s Bureau. Retrieved from: http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/neglect/
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. (2010). Understanding child maltreatment: Fact sheet. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pub/CM_factsheet.html
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. (2011). Child maltreatment: Risk and protective factors. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/childmaltreatment/riskprotectivefactors.html
7. Children's Bureau. (2012). Child maltreatment 2011. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Retrieved from: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/resource/child-maltreatment-2011
Children at risk of maltreatment and those already in the child welfare system interact with a range of public and private systems that can help prevent child abuse, mitigate its effects, and help children achieve permanence in safe and stable families. Policymakers also have a role in helping to promote positive health and well being for children in foster care and to facilitate the connections that enable youth “aging out” of the child welfare system to thrive as adults.
According to research and subject experts, policies that could aid families in the child welfare system or those at risk of entry include:
- Providing families with children at risk of abuse or neglect with a range of prevention services, including accurate risk assessment, multi-level, community-wide parenting education (media, individual and group supports, etc.), and home-visiting that is integrated into other prevention strategies (1, 2, 3)
- Implementing, expanding, and funding “differential response,” in which child protective services agencies have different levels of response to child abuse/neglect reports, depending on the severity of the allegations and the families’ particular needs; this approach recognizes the variation in the nature of reports, and the value of tailoring services to meet different needs (3)
- Providing an accessible system of mental health services for children in foster care (2), and creating incentives for early assessment and referral for mental health issues in young children in the child welfare system (4, 5)
- Ensuring proper implementation of existing law authorizing additional supports to transition-age youth exiting foster care, in order to provide stability, health care, mental health services, housing, and meaningful school and work opportunities upon emancipation (6, 7)
- Continuing to identify and support effective strategies to improve outcomes for children and families of color, especially African American/Black and American Indian/Native American children, in the child welfare system (8)
- Supporting the educational success of children in the child welfare system by addressing school enrollment barriers; children’s social, health, and academic support needs; and the need for effective communication and data sharing among schools, foster parents, and the child welfare system (9, 10)
For more research to support policy on child abuse prevention and foster care, see the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway, the California Evidence-based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare, and California Fostering Connections. For implementation tools, see Child Welfare League of America.
Sources for this narrative:
1. Princeton University and Brookings Institution. (2009). Preventing child maltreatment. The Future of Children, 19(2). Retrieved from: http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/19_02_FullJournal.pdf
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Preventing child maltreatment through the promotion of safe, stable, nurturing relationships between children and caregivers. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/CM_Strategic_Direction--Long-a.pdf
3. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2008). Differential response to reports of child abuse and neglect. Retrieved from: http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issue_briefs/differential_response/differential_response.pdf
4. Halfon, et al. (2002). Mental health services for children in foster care. Pediatrics 89(6), 1238-44. Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/89/6/1238.short
5. Cooper, et al. (2010). Addressing the mental health needs of young children in the child welfare system: What every policymaker should know. National Center for Children in Poverty. Retrieved from: http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_968.html
6. Delgado, M. (2010). Proposition 63: Is the Mental Health Services Act reaching California’s transition age foster youth? Children’s Advocacy Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.caichildlaw.org/Misc/Proposition_63_Report_FINAL_Master.pdf
7. Courtney, et al. (2005). The transition to adulthood for youth ‘aging out’ of the foster care system. University of Chicago. Retrieved from: http://books.google.com/books?id=-JorJNMaFf4C&lpg=PA27&ots=a2qSa271Ac&dq=california%20homelessness%20transition%20age%20youth&lr&pg=PA27#v=onepage&q&f=false
8. Center for the Study of Social Policy. (Accessed April 2011). Achieve racial equity in child welfare services. Retrieved from: http://policyforresults.org/Topics/Policy-Areas/Children-Safe-Supportive-Successful-Families/Increase-Exits-from-Foster-Care-to-PERMANENCY/Exits-to-Permanency/Executive-Summary/Racial-Disproportionality.aspx
9. Choice, et al. (2001). Education for foster children: Removing barriers to academic success. Bay Area Social Services Consortium and Center for Social Services Research. Retrieved from: http://cssr.berkeley.edu/pdfs/educf27.pdf
10. National Working Group on Foster Care and Education. (2008). Educational outcomes for children and youth in foster and out-of-home care. Retrieved from: http://www.casey.org/resources/publications/EducationalOutcomes.htm
In 2012, there were 487,016 reports (allegations) of child abuse and neglect in California. Of those cases, 81,764, or 17%, were substantiated (verified) by the state child welfare system. More than 60% of these verified cases were due to general neglect, which includes cases where the parent, guardian, or caregiver failed to provide adequate food, shelter, medical care, or supervision for the child, but no physical injury occurred. Neglect consistently has been the most common type of substantiated case statewide and in nearly all counties for which these data are available. California’s rate of substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect declined from 12.0 cases per 1,000 children ages 0-17 in 1998 to 8.9 in 2012. Children ages 0-5 make up the largest percentage of substantiated cases of child abuse/neglect in California; they comprised 46% of all cases in 2012, up from 40% in 1998.
Statewide, child abuse and neglect cases disproportionately involve children of color, particularly African American/Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children. For more information on racial disproportionality and disparities in child welfare, see the Child Welfare Information Gateway's Disproportionality Resources and a recent synthesis of research on the issue.