How Much Does Child Abuse Cost? Study Says $400K Over a Lifetime

Child maltreatment is often measured by lives forever scarred by trauma and families torn apart, but a new study estimates that each case of abuse also carries a hefty price tag.

According to researchers with the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center in collaboration and the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, each incidence of child abuse costs the public $400,533 over the course of a victim’s lifetime.

For the city of San Francisco, the total cost of child maltreatment was $301.6 million, a number that factors in the 753 cases of substantiated child abuse in 2015.

In the “The Economics of Child Abuse: A Study of San Francisco,” a study released on Thursday by the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center, the economic burden of child maltreatment is examined long after the child abuse has occurred.

Researchers looked at the average costs of child maltreatment in several areas: child welfare services, health care, special education services, criminal justice and lifetime productivity.

Each child who has a substantiated case of child abuse or neglect incurs $11,035 in costs related to the utilization of services from child welfare agencies. The average cost of special education services for a child who has suffered maltreatment is $12,891.

Health care costs over a lifetime for a victim of abuse or neglect are steep. The total costs of health care over a lifetime come to $54,553, with $41,025 of the costs borne during childhood. This takes into account inpatient hospital stays, mental health services and prescription drugs in the immediate aftermath of child maltreatment. But lifelong health consequences also include chronic health issues, substance abuse and mental health issues, among others.

Because victims of child abuse are more likely to become involved with both the juvenile and adult justice systems, costs of criminal justice are significant. On average, $7,637 per victim goes toward criminal justice. Even after childhood, victims of child abuse are 28 percent more likely than other children to have an adult criminal record.

Finally, child maltreatment can dramatically reshape expectations of lifetime productivity, which includes the loss of employment opportunities and the broader economic costs to businesses in San Francisco.

The researchers also tallied the economic costs of child abuse fatalities. For every child killed as a result of child maltreatment, the total cost is $2,659,649. The number takes into account one time medical fees as well as $2,641,655 in lost potential lifetime earnings.

Though the cost of child maltreatment is steep, researchers say that the estimates are conservative; the actual number may be much higher, as much as $5.6 billion. This is because many cases of abuse are not substantiated, are under-reported or have difficult-to-quantify costs.

The study concludes with three ways child abuse can be prevented:

  • Adopting a public health approach toward child abuse prevention
  • Providing greater access to services
  • Promoting education, including increased awareness of protective factors

To read the full report, click here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change 351 Articles
Jeremy is a West Coast-based senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at


  1. Utter nonsense, and devoid of meaningful facts. The majority of child “abuse” victims are poor children whose parent is labeled an abuser for being poor.
    CPS slaps the family-destroying “abuse” labels on parents because that is the tool it has.
    The label helps the child “welfare” dept. generate a federal revenue stream, much of which is used for the overhead and bureaucrats.
    So called services, often sole-source contracts to loosely overseen nonprofits, have not been shown to be effective. A call for more of this is ill-advised.
    You can’t fix poverty by tearing family apart.

  2. Nice argument backed by data which also works for institutional abuse caused by those working in those institutions who shouldn’t.

  3. If the State and County would start charging parents who abuse their kids an amount to take care of their kids and raise them, there would be an immediate decrease in abuse!

Comments are closed.