Child Abuse Statistics For The United States
Child abuse is a problem no one really talks about. Abuse and neglect is the number 1 cause of injury to children in the country. More children die of abuse or neglect than of natural causes. --Donna Miller
The child abuse statistics for the United States indicate that the number and rate of deaths due to child abuse and neglect have been increasing in general. These estimates are influenced by which states report data. Some of the increase can be traced to the improved data collection and recording, but not all causes of the increase can be identified.
The following is a summary of the child abuse statistics taken from information compiled by the federal government.
See summary statistics from Congressionally mandated studies:
How many children die each year from child abuse?1
2005 Statistics on Child Abuse
- For 2005, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) reported an estimated 1,460 child fatalities. This translates to a rate of 1.96 children per 100,000 children in the general population. NCANDS defines "child fatality" as the death of a child caused by an injury resulting from abuse or neglect, or where abuse or neglect was a contributing factor.
- Research indicates children aged 3 years or less are most often the victims of child fatalities. See the child abuse statistics in Figure 1 below.
- For 2005, 42.2 percent of child maltreatment fatalities were associated with child neglect. See the child abuse statistics in Figure 2.
1 - Child Abuse Statistics by Age, from NCANDS, 2005
2 - Child Abuse Statistics by Maltreatment, from NCANDS, 2005
2007 Statistics on Child Abuse
- For 2007, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) reported an estimated 1,760 child fatalities. This translates to a rate of 2.35 children per 100,000 children in the general population. NCANDS defines "child fatality" as the death of a child caused by an injury resulting from abuse or neglect, or where abuse or neglect was a contributing factor. See the child abuse statistics in Figure 3 below.
- For 2007, 35.2 percent of deaths were caused by multiple forms of maltreatment. Child neglect accounted for 34.1 percent and physical abuse for 26.4 percent. Medical neglect accounted for 1.2 percent of fatalities. See the child abuse statistics in Figure 4.
3 - Child Abuse Statistics by Age, from NCANDS, 2007
4 - Child Abuse Statistics by Maltreatment, from NCANDS, 2007
Issues affecting the accuracy and consistency of child fatality data include:
- Variation among reporting requirements and definitions of child abuse and neglect and other terms
- Variation in death investigative systems and in training for investigations
- Variation in State child fatality review processes
- The amount of time (as long as a year, in some cases) it may take to establish abuse or neglect as the cause of death
- Inaccurate determination of the manner and cause of death, resulting in the miscoding of death certificates; this includes deaths labeled as accidents, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), or "manner undetermined" that would have been attributed to abuse or neglect if more comprehensive investigations had been conducted (Hargrove & Bowman, 2007)
- Limited coding options for child deaths, especially those due to neglect or negligence, when using the International Classification of Diseases to code death certificates
- The ease with which the circumstances surrounding many child maltreatment deaths can be concealed
- Lack of coordination or cooperation among different agencies and jurisdictions
Child Abuse Statistics from the Third National Incidence Study of Child
Abuse and Neglect2
The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (or
NIS-3) is a congressionally mandated study based on a nationally representative
sample of over 5,600 professionals in 842 agencies serving 42 counties
across the United States. The study was published in 1996 and a subsequent
study, the NIS-4, is due sometime in 2008. Following below are some
child abuse statistics gleaned from the NIS-3 findings.
Definitions and Terms To Understand When Reading The Following Child Abuse Statistics
- Harm Standard - The Harm Standard was developed for the NIS-1,
and it has been used in all three national incidence studies. It
is relatively stringent in that it generally requires that an act
or omission result in demonstrable harm in order to be classified
as abuse or neglect. Exceptions are made in only a few categories
where the nature of the maltreatment itself is so egregious that
the standard permits harm to be inferred when direct evidence of
it is not available. The chief advantage of the Harm Standard is
that it is strongly objective in character. Its principal disadvantage
is that it is so stringent that it provides a view of abuse and
neglect that is too narrow for many purposes, excluding even many
children whose maltreatment is substantiated or indicated as abuse
or neglect by CPS.
- Endangerment Standard - The Endangerment Standard was developed
as a definitional standard during the NIS-2 to supplement the perspective
provided by the Harm Standard. The Endangerment Standard includes
all children who meet the Harm Standard but adds others as well.
The central feature of the Endangerment Standard is that it allows
children who were not yet harmed by maltreatment to be counted in
the abused and neglected estimates if a non-CPS sentinel considered
them to be endangered by maltreatment or if their maltreatment was
substantiated or indicated in a CPS investigation.
Child Abuse Statistics: Distribution of Child
Abuse and Neglect by the Child's Characteristics
- The child's sex and age were related to the rate of maltreatment,
but race was not.
- Girls were sexually abused about three times more often than boys.
- Boys had a 24% greater risk of serious injury than girls.
- Boys were 18% more likely to be emotionally neglected than girls.
- The NIS-3 found no race differences in maltreatment incidence.
The NIS-3 reiterates the findings of the earlier national incidence
studies in this regard.
Child Abuse Statistics: Distribution of Child Abuse and Neglect by Family Characteristics
Child Abuse Statistics Regarding Family Structure
- Children of single parents were at higher risk of physical abuse
and of all types of neglect and were overrepresented among seriously
injured, moderately injured, and endangered children.
- Compared with their counterparts living with both parents, children
in single-parent families had:
- a 77% greater risk of being harmed by physical abuse (using
the stringent Harm Standard) and a 63-percent greater risk of
experiencing any countable physical abuse (using the Endangerment
- an 87% greater risk of being harmed by physical neglect and
a 165-percent greater risk of experiencing any countable physical
- 74% greater risk of being harmed by emotional neglect and a
64-percent greater risk of experiencing any countable emotional
- 220% (or more than three times) greater risk of being educationally
- an approximately 80% greater risk of suffering serious injury
or harm from abuse or neglect
- an approximately 90% greater risk of receiving moderate injury
or harm as a result of child maltreatment
- a 120% (or more than two times) greater risk of being endangered
by some type of child abuse or neglect.
- Among children in single-parent households, those living with
only their fathers were approximately one and two-thirds times
more likely to be physically abused than those living with only
Child Abuse Statistics: Distribution of Child
Abuse and Neglect by Family Characteristics
Child Abuse Statistics Regarding Family Income
Family income was significantly related to incidence rates in
nearly every category of maltreatment. Compared to children whose
families earned $30,000 per year or more, those in families with
annual incomes below $15,000 per year were:
- more than 22 times more likely to experience some form of maltreatment
under the Harm Standard and over 25 times more likely to suffer
maltreatment of some type using the Endangerment Standard;
- almost 14 times more likely to be harmed by some variety of
abuse and nearly 15 times more likely to be abused using the Endangerment
- more than 44 times more likely to be neglected, by either definitional
- almost 16 times more likely to be a victim of physical abuse
under the Harm Standard and nearly 12 times more likely to be
a victim of physical abuse using the Endangerment Standard;
- almost 18 times more likely to be sexually abused by either
- thirteen times more likely to be emotionally abused under the
Harm Standard criteria and more than 18 times more likely to be
emotionally abused in a manner that fit Endangerment Standard
- forty times more likely to experience physical neglect under
the Harm Standard and over 48 times more likely to be a victim
of physical neglect using the Endangerment Standard;
- over 29 times more likely to be emotionally neglected under
the Harm Standard definitions and over 27 times more likely to
be emotionally neglected by Endangerment Standard criteria;
- nearly 56 times more likely to be educationally neglected,
by either definitional standard;
- sixty times more likely to die from maltreatment of some type
under the Harm Standard and over 22 times more likely to die from
abuse or neglect using the Endangerment Standard;
- over 22 times more likely to be seriously injured by maltreatment
under the Harm Standard and almost 22 times more likely to be
seriously injured by maltreatment that fit the Endangerment Standard
- about 18 times more likely to be moderately injured by abuse
or neglect under the Harm Standard and nearly 20 times more likely
to have a moderate injury from maltreatment as defined by the
- fifty-seven times more likely to be classified as having an
inferred injury under the Harm Standard and 39 times more likely
to meet the criteria for inferred injury as defined by the Endangerment
- over 31 times more likely to be considered endangered, although
not yet injured, by some type of abusive or neglectful treatment.
*Note that there are a number of problems associated with poverty
that may contribute to child maltreatment: more transient residence,
poorer education, and higher rates of substance abuse and emotional
disorders. Moreover, families at the lower socioeconomic levels have
less adequate social support systems to assist parents in their child
Child Abuse Statistics: Distribution of Child
Abuse and Neglect by Perpetrator Characteristics
- Birth parents were the most closely related perpetrators for 72
percent of the physically abused children and for 81 percent of
the emotionally abused children.
- Nearly one-half of the sexually abused children were sexually
abused by someone other than a parent or parent-substitute, while
just over one-fourth were sexually abused by a birth parent, and
one-fourth were sexually abused by other than a birth parent or
- Children were somewhat more likely to be maltreated by female
perpetrators than by males: 65 percent of the maltreated children
had been maltreated by a female, whereas 54 percent had been maltreated
by a male. Of children who were maltreated by their birth parents,
the majority (75%) were maltreated by their mothers and a sizable
minority (46%) were maltreated by their fathers (some children were
maltreated by both parents). In contrast, children who were maltreated
by other parents or parent-substitutes, or by other persons, were
more likely to have been maltreated by a male than by a female (80
to 85% were maltreated by males; 14 to 41% by females).
- In cases of child neglect, 87% of the perpetrators were female
while 43% were male. This finding is congruent with the fact that
mothers and mother-substitutes tend to be the primary caretakers
and are the primary persons held accountable for any omissions and/or
failings in caretaking.
- In cases of child abuse, children were abused by males 67% of
the time compare to 40% by females. The prevalence of male perpetrators
was strongest in the category of sexual abuse, where 89 percent
of the children were abused by a male compared to only 12 percent
by a female.
- Children who had been physically abused by their birth parents
were more likely to have suffered at the hands of their mothers
than their fathers (60% versus 48%), while those who had been physically
abused by other parents or parent- substitutes were much more likely
to have been abused by their fathers or father-substitutes (90%
by their fathers versus 19% by their mothers). For sexual abuse,
the child's relationship to the perpetrator made very little difference,
since males clearly predominated as perpetrators, whatever their
relationship to the child. Moreover, the severity of the injury
or impairment that the child experienced as a result of maltreatment
did not appear to bear any relationship to the sex of the perpetrator.
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*This article was last updated September 2, 2009.
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