October 12, 2021
Child Maltreatment Trends: A Persistent Picture of Young Survivors and Neglect
The abuse or neglect of any child is a tragedy, and the encouraging news from the latest data in the KIDS COUNT Data Center is that the number of confirmed child maltreatment victims in the United States decreased by 26,512 from 2015 to 2019. However, the rate of child maltreatment remains unchanged: 9 in every 1,000 kids under age 18 were confirmed victims of abuse or neglect during this five-year period. The data also show that young children continue to be at greatest risk of abuse or neglect. Of the more than 652,000 confirmed victims in 2019, 40% were between birth and age 4 and 32% were ages 5 to 10.
These data, which come from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, only include children who came to the attention of authorities through reports of maltreatment, so the actual number of abused or neglected children may be higher.
By far, the most common type of child maltreatment is neglect — when a child’s basic needs are not met, such as food, housing, clothing, etc. — with 75% of victims experiencing neglect in 2019 and previous years. Neglect often is tied to the effects of poverty, making it a priority to strengthen and support families in need. Other common types of maltreatment include physical abuse (17% in 2019), sexual abuse (9%), emotional abuse (6%) and medical neglect (2%).
The Consequences Are Serious, But Maltreatment Can Be Prevented and Addressed
Young survivors of maltreatment can experience both immediate and long-term physical, emotional and behavioral problems. Abuse or neglect, especially when chronic, can disrupt healthy development and result in lifelong effects on health, mental health and overall well-being.
Child maltreatment is preventable and its effects can be mitigated with effective treatment and trauma-informed services. Unfortunately, just over half (54%) of child victims received services in 2019, indicating that a substantial number of children likely had unmet needs.
Efforts to prevent abuse and neglect must continue to involve multiple sectors working together to reduce risk factors and strengthen protective factors among individuals, families, and communities. Societal factors, such as providing an adequate social safety net and high-quality child care, also are critical in supporting families and ensuring that children’s needs are met.
State Trends in Child Maltreatment
From 2015 to 2019, Pennsylvania consistently had the lowest child maltreatment rates in the country, with 2 confirmed victims in every 1,000 kids in 2019. North Carolina also achieved this low rate in 2019. At the upper end, Kentucky had the highest rates over the last three years, at 20 per 1,000 in 2019.
Some states saw marked increases in their rates of child maltreatment during 2015–2019, including Montana (from 8 to 16 confirmed victims in every 1,000 kids), West Virginia (13 to 19 per 1,000), Maine (13 to 18) and Iowa (11 to 16). However, Georgia had the largest decline in child maltreatment rates during this period, from 11 to 4 in every 1,000 kids.
States vary in their child welfare policies and practices, so it is important to learn about the context of each state’s system when interpreting these trends. Stakeholders can use these data as a tool to raise questions, discuss aspects of each system that could be strengthened, and ultimately improve outcomes for children and families.