Associate Professor of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University
- Children in the northeast, south, and midwest United States are likely to experience more maltreatment than children in the west United States.
- Girls are more likely to be maltreated than boys, and the risk of maltreatment is highest in the first years of life, with a quarter of first confirmed reports before age 2 and half of confirmed maltreatment before age 5.
- For Black children, the cumulative prevalence is 1 in 5, and for Native American children, 1 in 7.
In the article, “The Prevalence of Confirmed Maltreatment Among U.S. Children, 2004 to 2011,” Wildeman, Emanuel, Leventhal, Putnam-Hornstein, Waldfogel, and Lee sought to estimate the proportion of U.S. children with a report of maltreatment (abuse or neglect) that has been indicated or substantiated by Child Protective Services. A large disparity exists between this number and estimates of the prevalence of maltreatment based on retrospective self-reports. The authors used the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System Child File, which includes information on more than 5.6 million U.S. children with a confirmed report of maltreatment (most were neglect, not abuse) between 2004 and 2011, and estimates of the population of U.S. children by age, race/ethnicity, sex, and year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Based on this data, which provide cumulative rather than annual estimates, they calculated that 1 in 8 U.S. children will experience maltreatment so persistent or severe that it results in a state-confirmed report, suggesting that child maltreatment is much more prevalent than annual reports indicate. Prevalence is higher for girls, and for Black, Native American, and Hispanic children. By identifying child maltreatment as a common phenomenon and a major public health concern, the findings can inform policies and practices to reduce maltreatment and improve health disparities.