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Child Abuse

Frequently Asked Questions on Child Abuse And Neglect

  1. How Many Children Are Reported And Investigated For Abuse Or Neglect?
  2. How Many Children Are Victims Of Maltreatment?
  3. Is The Number Of Abused Or Neglected Children Increasing?
  4. What Are The Most Common Types Of Maltreatment?
  5. Who Are The Child Victims?
  6. How Many Children Die From Abuse Or Neglect?
  7. Who Abuses And Neglects Children?
  8. Who Reports Child Maltreatment?
  9. Are Victims Of Child Abuse More Likely To Engage In Criminality Later In Life?
  10. Is There Any Evidence Linking Alcohol Or Other Drug Use To Child Maltreatment?

How Many Children Are Reported And Investigated For Abuse Or Neglect?

In 1997, State child protective services (CPS) agencies investigated an estimated 2 million reports

How Many Children Are Victims Of Maltreatment?

In 1997, CPS agencies determined that just under 1 million children were victims of substantiated or indicated child abuse and neglect. The term "substantiated" refers to a confirmed maltreatment charge according to the level of evidence required by State law or State policy. The term "indicated" is used in some States when there is not enough evidence to prove a case under State law or policy, but there is reason to suspect that maltreatment occurred, or there is risk of future maltreatment.

Several studies suggest that more children suffer from abuse or neglect than are evident in official statistics from State CPS agencies. Based on reports received and investigated by CPS, about 13.9 children under 18 per 1000 in the general population were victims of abuse or neglect. In comparison, the NIS-3 estimated that 42 children per 1000 in the population were harmed or endangered by maltreatment.

Is The Number Of Abused Or Neglected Children Increasing?

Nationally, the number of victims of substantiated or indicated maltreatment decreased between 1996 and 1997, from slightly over one million (1,030,751) to just under one million (984,000). Previously, the rate of maltreatment had been on the increase between 1990 and 1996, with an overall increase for that period of 18 percent.

The 1996 NIS reported a dramatic increase in maltreatment between 1986 (NIS-2) and 1993 (NIS-3). According to the NIS, the estimated number of children who experienced harm from abuse and neglect increased 67 percent between the two studies (from 931,000 children to 1,553,800). In particular, the estimated number of seriously injured children quadrupled from 141,700 in 1986 to 565,000 in 1993.

What Are The Most Common Types Of Maltreatment?

Neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment. CPS investigations determined that in 1997:

Many children suffer more than one type of maltreatment.

Who Are The Child Victims?

Child abuse and neglect affects children of all ages. Among children confirmed as victims by CPS agencies in 1997, more than half were 7 years old or younger, and one-quarter were younger than 4 years old. Approximately 22 percent of victims were children ages 8 to 11; another 25 percent were youth ages 12 to 18. A greater proportion of neglect and medical neglect victims were children younger than 8, while a greater proportion of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse victims were children age 8 or older.

In 1997, approximately 52 percent of victims of maltreatment were female, and 47 percent were male. Available data suggest that some differences exist in the types of maltreatment experienced by male and female children. A review of data showed that 77 percent of sexual abuse victims were girls and 23 percent boys. Victims of emotional maltreatment also were somewhat more likely to be female (51%) than male (49%).

Conversely, a slightly greater proportion of victims of other types of maltreatment were male, with males comprising approximately 51 percent of neglect victims and 52 percent of both physical abuse and medical neglect victims.

Two-thirds (67%) of all victims were white, while 27 percent were African American. American Indian/Alaska Native children were about 2.5 percent of victims and Asian/Pacific Islander children about 1 percent of victims. Hispanic children were about 13 percent of victims.

While children of families in all income levels suffer maltreatment, research suggests that family income is strongly related to incidence rates. The NIS-3 found that children from families with annual incomes below $15,000 per year were more than 25 times more likely than children from families with annual income above $30,000 to have been harmed or endangered by abuse or neglect.

How Many Children Die From Abuse Or Neglect?

Based on data reported by CPS agencies in 1997, it is estimated that nationwide, 1,196 children died as a result of abuse or neglect. Children age 3 and under accounted for more than three-quarters of these child fatalities. The actual number of deaths may be higher, as not all child maltreatment fatalities are known to CPS.

Who Abuses And Neglects Children?

In 1997, the majority of perpetrators of child maltreatment (75%) were parents, and another 10 percent were other relatives of the victim. People who were in other caretaking relationships to the victim (e.g., child care providers, foster parents, and facility staff) accounted for only 2 percent of perpetrators. About 13 percent of all perpetrators were classified as non-caretakers or unknown. (In many States, perpetrators of child maltreatment by definition must be in a caretaking role.)

Over 80 percent of all perpetrators were under age 40. Overall, approximately 62 percent of perpetrators were female, although perpetrator gender differed by type of maltreatment. Neglect and medical neglect were most often attributed to female perpetrators, while sexual abuse was most often attributed to male perpetrators.

Who Reports Child Maltreatment?

In 1997, 81% of all reports alleging maltreatment and referred for investigation came from professionals, including educators, law enforcement and justice officials, social services workers, and medical and mental health personnel. About 18 percent of reports were received from parents, other relatives of the child or the victims themselves, 8.5 percent from friends and neighbors, 12 percent from anonymous sources, and 8 percent from other sources. An estimated two-thirds of substantiated or indicated reports were from professional sources.

Are Victims Of Child Abuse More Likely To Engage In Criminality Later In Life?

According to a 1992 study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), maltreatment in childhood increases the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 53 percent, as an adult by 38 percent, and for a violent crime by 38 percent. Being abused or neglected in childhood increases the likelihood of arrest for females by 77 percent. A related 1995 NIJ report indicated that children who were sexually abused were 28 times more likely than a control group of non-abused children to be arrested for prostitution as an adult.

Is There Any Evidence Linking Alcohol Or Other Drug Use To Child Maltreatment?

A 1999 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that children of substance-abusing parents were almost 3 times likelier to be abused and more than 4 times likelier to be neglected than children of parents who are not substance abusers. Other studies suggest that an estimated 50 percent to 80 percent of all child abuse cases substantiated by CPS involve some degree of substance abuse by the child's parents.


To answer frequently asked questions on child abuse and neglect, this fact sheet synthesizes information from several federally supported sources. Much of the data comes from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) and the National Incidence Study (NIS) of Child Abuse and Neglect, both sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NCANDS annually collects and analyzes information on child maltreatment provided by State child protective services (CPS) agencies. These CPS agencies are public social service organizations with the primary responsibility for receiving and responding to reports of alleged maltreatment. The NIS periodically surveys community professionals who come into contact with children (5,600 professionals in 1993) to estimate the incidence of child maltreatment, including cases both reported and not reported to CPS.

This fact sheet was modified slightly from the original

References

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. (1999). Child maltreatment 1997: Reports from the states to the national child abuse and neglect data system. Washington, DC: GPO.

U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect: Final Report (NIS-3) (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1996).

U. S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, A Nation's Shame: Fatal Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States (Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, 1995).

Widom, C. S., and Ames, M. A., "Criminal Consequences of Child Sexual Victimization," Child Abuse and Neglect, 18 (1994): 303-318.

U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, A Report on Child Maltreatment in Alcohol-Abusing Families (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1993).

Widom, C. S. The Cycle of Violence (Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, 1992).

U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, National Incidence and Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect: The 1988 Revised Report (NIS-2) (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1991).

Child Welfare League of America, Highlights of Questions from the Working Paper on Chemical Dependency (Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America, 1989)

Reid, J., Macchetto, P., & Foster, S. (1999). No safe haven: Children of substance-abusing parents. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. New York, NY.

For more information or to order a free copy of: Child Maltreatment 1996: Reports from the States to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System; Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect: Final Report or Executive Summary; A Nation's Shame: Fatal Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States, contact:

Be sure to include the name of the publication you are ordering, your name, address, and telephone number.

Child Welfare Information Gateway
330 C Street, SW
Washington, DC 20447
(800) FYI-3366 or (703) 385-7565

E-mail: nccanch@calib.com

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Last Reviewed: Jan 01, 2000

Robert Shapiro, MD
Professor of Clinical Pediatrics
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati