Child Maltreatment Trends: A Persistent Picture of Young Survivors and Neglect

Updated August 9, 2023 | Posted October 12, 2021
Update childmaltreatment 2021

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 annu­al num­ber of con­firmed child mal­treat­ment vic­tims in the Unit­ed States decreased by almost 100,000 from 2015 to 2021. The rate of child mal­treat­ment also declined from 9 to 8 con­firmed vic­tims of abuse or neglect in every 1,000 kids under age 18. The data show that young chil­dren con­tin­ue to be at great­est risk of abuse or neglect. Of the more than 585,000 con­firmed vic­tims in 2021, over two-thirds (70%) were between birth and age 10.

CHILDREN WHO ARE CONFIRMED BY CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES AS VICTIMS OF MALTREATMENT BY AGE GROUP IN UNITED STATES

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 76% of vic­tims expe­ri­enc­ing neglect in 2021, sim­i­lar to 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 (16% in 2021), sex­u­al abuse (10%), emo­tion­al abuse (6%) and med­ical neglect (2%).

CHILDREN WHO ARE CONFIRMED BY CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES AS VICTIMS OF MALTREATMENT BY MALTREATMENT TYPE IN UNITED STATES

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 2021, few­er than in pre­vi­ous years, indi­cat­ing that a sub­stan­tial num­ber of chil­dren like­ly have 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 2021, Penn­syl­va­nia con­sis­tent­ly had the low­est child mal­treat­ment rates in the coun­try, with 2 con­firmed vic­tims in every 1,000 kids in 2021. Wash­ing­ton and New Jer­sey also achieved this low rate in 2021. At the upper end, Maine, Mass­a­chu­setts, and West Vir­ginia had the high­est rates in 2021, at 17 per 1,000.

In line with the nation­al trend, near­ly half (23) of states saw decreas­es in their rates of child mal­treat­ment from 2015 to 2021. Geor­gia had the largest drop in this peri­od, from 11 to 4 in every 1,000 kids. Kentucky’s rate dropped con­sid­er­ably in recent years, as well, from 23 per 1,000 in 2018 to 15 in 2021

At the same time, some states saw marked increas­es in their rates dur­ing 20152021, includ­ing North Car­oli­na (from 3 to 9 con­firmed vic­tims in every 1,000 kids), and Mon­tana (from 8 to 13 per 1,000, with a peak of 16 in 20182020). 

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, iden­ti­fy and address aspects of each sys­tem that could be strength­ened, track progress and ulti­mate­ly improve out­comes for chil­dren and families.

Learn More About Child Maltreatment

See all child wel­fare data in the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter and read more about the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s work in child wel­fare.

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