Child Maltreatment Cases Declined During Pandemic, But Are Children Safer?

Children With Substantiated Reports of Abuse or Neglect, 2000-2020

Trend of children with substantiated cases of abuse, 2000-2020

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, an opportunity to encourage action to ensure that every child has a safe and nurturing home environment. If not prevented or addressed, child maltreatment can disrupt healthy brain development and have lasting negative effects on physical well-being, mental health, and life opportunities.

According to the latest data, 61,419 California children under age 18 were confirmed victims of abuse or neglect in 2020, down from 69,680 in 2019. While the rate of children with confirmed (substantiated) reports of maltreatment has been falling for 20 years, the drop in 2020 was particularly sharp, at more than 10%. In addition, the rate of children alleged (reported) to have been abused or neglected declined by more than 17% in 2020, after holding fairly steady for two decades.

Do these declines in maltreatment cases mean children were safer in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic? Child welfare experts have mixed views.

It’s important to remember that the data presented here do not capture child maltreatment that is never reported. Also, the pandemic’s impacts will vary according to each family’s risk and protective factors.

Some leaders and scholars suggest that because many families faced increased stress and financial hardship—two risk factors for maltreatment—children may have been less safe in 2020. Moreover, closures of schools, child-care centers, and public places meant children had less contact with adults outside the home who could witness and report suspected maltreatment. In other words, the dip may have been in reporting, rather than in maltreatment itself.

According to other experts, it’s possible that children were safer in 2020, as government assistance alleviated financial stress for some families, and more time together at home may have strengthened child-caregiver relationships. Ultimately, it’s difficult to determine whether the declines in 2020 figures are due to decreases in maltreatment, underreporting, or both.

Even if declines in the most recent data reflect improved child safety overall, concerning trends persist:

  • Increasingly, the state’s youngest children face the highest risk for reported and substantiated maltreatment. In 2020, 46% of confirmed victims were under age 6, up from 39% in 2000.
  • In California, more than 7 in 10 children with substantiated reports of maltreatment suffer general neglect. The inability to provide for a child’s basic needs is often related to inadequate family income or access to support services.
  • Statewide and nationally, African American/Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children are consistently overrepresented at all stages of involvement with the child welfare system, from reported and substantiated maltreatment to removal from home and placement in foster care. This is due to an array of complex factors, including systemic racism and bias, that disadvantage communities of color.

Child maltreatment can be eliminated through strategies that address socioeconomic inequities; improve the quality and availability of support services, particularly for groups at risk; and promote protective factors at the individual, family, community, and system levels. In recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we all can embrace children’s well-being as a shared responsibility and take action to support children and families in our communities. Read more about ways to prevent child abuse and neglect.

KidsData in the News

Domestic Violence in California: Signs of Abuse and First Steps to Get Help

A Sacramento Bee report on domestic violence referenced a recent KidsData blog on intimate partner violence (subscription required).

Expertos aconsejan vacunar a los niños para evitar que 2022 sea el peor año para los menores

A La Opinión report quoted KidsData Deputy Director Beth Jarosz on trends in child COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Health Data Resource

Building Up Communities by Breaking Down Data

Only by disaggregating data can we understand enough to make wise policy decisions that build up our communities. Read more.

Recently Released Data

We recently released data about child abuse and neglect, pupil support services, school attendance and discipline, and student demographics. See links to the latest here.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 13th, 2022 at 9:15 am. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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