Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 1997. HC 2.6 Abuse and neglect

04/01/1997

Abuse and neglect cause physical and/or emotional harm to children. They can produce short-term psychological consequences that range from poor peer relations to violent behavior, as well as untold long-term psychological and economic consequences when children reach adulthood.19 They can result in serious injury or, in extreme cases, death.

The National Research Council distinguishes four categories of child maltreatment: (1) physical abuse, (2) sexual abuse, (3) emotional maltreatment, and (4) neglect.20 The first three are commonly grouped together under the term "abuse," although there are currently no universally accepted definitions of any of these terms. (For example, the point at which corporal punishment becomes physical abuse is not agreed upon by child welfare professionals or lay people).

According to data from the most comprehensive annual data collection efforts undertaken to date, there were about 875 thousand substantiated cases21 of child abuse and neglect in 1994a rate of 12.9 cases per thousand children under age 18 (see Figure HC 2.6). This is a substantial increase over the roughly 720 thousand cases substantiated in 1990, when the rate was only 11.4 cases per thousand.22 Although maltreatment was about evenly split between abuse and neglect, abuse accounted for a somewhat smaller share of the total in 1994 than in 1990.

The number of substantiated cases shown in Figure HC 2.6 may substantially understate the actual number of cases of maltreatment. In order for a case to be substantiated, it must first be reported to child welfare authorities, and child protective services workers must undertake an investigation which finds sufficient evidence of abuse or neglect to proceed further with the case.

Another data source, the third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, yields a much higher estimate of the total number of cases of child maltreatment possibly as high as 2.8 million cases in 1993. This study includes (1) all cases reported to child protective services (regardless of whether they were investigated and substantiated)23 and (2) cases known to community professionals but not necessarily reported to child protective services.

Differences by Race. Black children account for a disproportionate share of substantiated maltreatment cases relative to their share of the child population (see Table HC 2.6).

  • Black children, who constituted only 16 percent of all children under age 18, accounted for 26 percent of the abuse and neglect cases in 1994.
  • White children, who constituted 79 percent of all children under age 18, accounted for only 56 percent of abused and neglected children in 1994.
  • Hispanic children, who constituted about 14 percent of all children under age 18, accounted for only nine percent of the abuse and neglect cases.

Differences by Age. No age group accounts for an obviously disproportionate share of abuse and neglect cases. In 1994, (see Table HC 2.6) infants under age one accounted for about seven percent of substantiated cases; children ages one to five accounted for about 33 percent of substantiated cases; children ages six to 12 accounted for 38 percent of substantiated cases; and children ages 13 to 17 accounted for about 20 percent of substantiated cases.
 
 

Figure HC 2.6  
Substantiated Cases of Child Maltreatment, 1990-1994 
(number, and rate per 1,000 children under age 18) 

HC2_6.GIF

Note: Statistics for 1990-1992 have been revised, to obtain consistent representation of the same number of jurisdictions over the entire 1990-1994 period. Statistics are for the 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
Sources: 1994, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, Child Maltreatment, 1994: Reports from the States to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996). 1993, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, Child Maltreatment, 1993: Reports from the States to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995). 1992, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, Child Maltreatment, 1992: Reports from the States to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994). 1990- 91, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1991 Summary Data Component. (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993). U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1994 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995). U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1995 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996).
 
 

Table HC 2.6 
Substantiated Cases of Child Maltreatment, 1990-1994 
(number, and rate per 1,000 children under age 18)

 
     
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
     
 
 
 
 
 
Total
 
Number 
722,414
741,175
849,448
903,342
875,560
  Rate per thousand
11.4
11.4
12.8
13.5
12.9
 
  Type of Maltreatment (% of Total Cases)
    Abuse
51
50
45
46
44
    Neglect
49
50
55
54
56
 
  Race/Ethnicity (% of Total Cases)
    White
55
56
55
54
56
    Black
25
27
26
25
26
    Hispanic
9
10
10
9
9
    Other
4
4
4
4
4
    Unknown
7
5
6
9
4
 
  Sex (% of Total Cases)
    Male
47
46
46
47
47
    Female
53
54
54
53
53
               
  Age (% of Total Cases)
    Under 1
8
8
7
7
7
    1 to 5
31
32
32
33
33
    6 to 12
37
38
37
38
38
    13 to 17
20
20
19
20
20
    18+/unknown
5
2
5
2
2
 
Note: Statistics for 1990-1992 have been revised, to obtain consistent representation of the same number of jurisdictions over the entire 1990-1994 period. Statistics are for the 50 states plus the District of Columbia.  

Sources: 1994, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, "Child Maltreatment, 1994: Reports from the States to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect" (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996). 1993, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, "Child Maltreatment, 1993: Reports from the States to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect" (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995). 1992, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, Child Maltreatment, 1992: Reports from the States to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994). 1990- 91, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, "1991 Summary Data Component." (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993). U.S. Bureau of the Census, "Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1994" (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995). U.S. Bureau of the Census, "Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1995" (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996).

 

19 Many studies have demonstrated a correlation between child abuse and neglect and serious adult problems including violence, incarceration, and mental illness. However, these studies have not been able to separate the effects of child abuse and neglect from other factors that are correlated with it including poverty, education, parenting skills, etc.

20 National Research Council, Panel on Child Abuse and Neglect, Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1993.

21 In most states, each reported incident is counted even if multiple incidents are reported for the same child.

22 The apparent drop between 1993 and 1994 should be viewed with caution since there are important inconsistencies in data collection methodology from year to year.

23 According to the National Incidence Study, in 1993, only 28 percent of maltreatment cases identified by the Study were investigated--a significant decrease from the 44 percent investigated in 1986. The cause of this drop is not clear.
 

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