Child Abuse, Fatalities from Abuse and Neglect, Trending Upward

While the number of child neglect and sexual abuse cases continues to trend downward, America saw an uptick in maltreatment-related fatalities and the number of documented physical abuse cases, according to an annual report by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

Nationwide, the number of physical abuse cases rose 5 percent between 2015 and 2016, landing at approximately 125,000 cases. The physical abuse rate reached a low of about 31 per 10,000 youth in 2011, and has wavered between there and 35 per 10,000 since.

Maltreatment fatalities rose to 1,700, which the report cites as an 8 percent increase between 2015 and 2016. However, one state – North Carolina – provided data on fatalities in 2016 but not in 2015.

Assuming no change in fatalities in North Carolina, the increase was 5 percent.

The increase in fatalities was fueled by sizable increases in two states: Indiana, up from 34 to 70, and Texas, up from 162 to 217. On the other end, the biggest numerical decreases came in Florida, Georgia and Washington.

Overall, 20 states saw fewer fatalities in 2016 and five saw no change. Maine and Massachusetts did not supply any information on child fatalities.

The trend report’s authors caution against leaning too much on national trends when it comes to maltreatment rates because “states differ in how statutes define abuse and how abuse is investigated and processed.”

That said, 30 states and the District of Columbia either saw an increase in physical abuse cases, or saw no change, between 2015 and 2016. Several states saw dramatic one-year upticks in this category, including: Tennessee (up 309 percent), Minnesota (up 122 percent), New Hampshire (60 percent) and Wyoming (50 percent).

Neglect cases, which reached a recent low of about 71 per 10,000 in 2012, increased through 2014 and now continue a slow descent back toward the 2012 mark. However, only 21 states actually saw a decrease between 2015 and 2016.

Pennsylvania saw an 89 percent increase in documented neglect cases, according to the report. Montana (up 73 percent) is the only other state that saw an increase of more than 50 percent.

In the wake of the 2011 sex abuse scandal at Penn State, Pennsylvania passed dozens of laws aimed at increasing the number of professionals required to report suspected maltreatment, and tightening scrutiny of people who work with young people.

The number of child abuse reports has skyrocketed since those laws took effect. There were 29,517 reports of child abuse in 2014, according to state data. That climbed to 42,018 in 2015, and 44,359 in 2016.

This is the second year that documented neglect cases have risen in the state; it jumped 25 percent between 2014 and 2015. Documented sexual abuse cases in Pennsylvania increased 10 percent between 2015 and 2016.

The trend report was authored by David Finkelhor, Kei Saito and Lisa Jones. It is based on data reported to the federal government through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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