Professional Resource

The Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect

Feb 9, 2006

All child care professionals should know the facts about the impact and prevalence of abuse and neglect on young children.

Child abuse is a common and serious problem in the United States. Infants and toddlers are disproportionately impacted by child abuse and neglect and are most likely to suffer the most serious consequences.

The following questions and answers provide a picture of the impact and prevalence of abuse and neglect on young children.

True or False?

An estimated 4 out of every 1,000 children in the U.S. are abused or neglected each year.

False. The rate of abuse/neglect for 2002 was 12.3 per 1,000 children (USDHHS, 2004). Experts in the field of child abuse suspect actual rates are much higher than reported (English, 1998). Some reasons for this might be that some forms of abuse, such as sexual abuse, are underreported. And another reason may be that, while a child may experience harm from a parent or other adult, it may not rise to the level that requires the state to become involved in a family’s life. In addition, fear and reluctance may stop some people from reporting suspected abuse and neglect.

One in four girls and one in six boys are abused by the age of 18.

True. Child abuse and neglect are very common experiences in our society. It is difficult to know exactly what percentage of children abused, as many believe that official reports represent only the tip of the iceberg, Many cases of abuse are never reported. Some that are reported are not investigated. For example, no investigation is possible if the family cannot be located. Additionally, while there may be risk for abuse, actual abuse may not be taking place (English, 1998; Waldfogel, 1998). Many cases that are investigated are not substantiated due to false reports, to a finding that a child has not been injured, to errors in the system or in the assessment of families (English, 1998, Waldfogel, 1998). Some sources report abuse rates of 44 per 1,000 children” (reported in English, 1998). Others estimate that 27 percent of women and 16 percent of men report childhood sexual abuse”(reported in English, 1998).

Children age 3 and under account for about 28 percent of child abuse and neglect victims.

True. In fact, babies under 1 year old are at greatest risk of maltreatment (USDHHD, 2004). As children get older, the percentage of all maltreatment cases they account for decreases (USDHHS, 2004).

Twenty percent of foster care admissions are infants under 12 months.

True. Infants are the largest age group of young children entering foster care (USDHHS, 2004; Wulczyn & Hislop, 2002). Those placed in foster care within three months of birth spend twice as long in care as do older children (Wulczyn & Hislop, 2002).

Excerpted from Seibel, N., Gillespie, L. & Britt, D. (2006). Preventing child abuse and neglect: Parent-teacher partnerships in child care.

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