More than 12 percent of U.S. children will be victims of abuse or neglect by the time they turn 18, according to a study of recent maltreatment data released this week.
The study, “The Prevalence of Confirmed Maltreatment Among American Children, 2004-2011,” found that approximately one in 8 children, or 12.5 percent, were neglected, physically abused or sexually abused between 2004 and 2011. That is nearly 14 times higher than the annual rate reported by the Department of Health Human Services (HHS), which is less than 1 percent.
“Child maltreatment is more common than traditionally thought,” said Christopher Wildeman, lead author of the study and a professor of sociology at Yale University. “Our study found that 12.5 percent of American Children and 20 percent of African American children will experience a confirmed case of maltreatment between birth and their 18th birthday.”
African American children experienced significantly higher rates of abuse when compared to white children, according to the study. “This means Black children are about as likely to have a confirmed report of maltreatment during childhood as they are to complete college,” the study reports.
Researchers sifted through data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) Child File and found more than 5.6 million reports of children maltreatment. All of the reports were confirmed by Child Protective Services, meaning that for each report CPS determined that there was enough evidence or proof of maltreatment.
“Looking at the annual percentages, it’s easy to say this is really tragic, but the implications on society are slight because the numbers are small,” said Wildeman. “But when 12.5 percent of kids are being maltreated it is much harder to ignore.”
Going into the study, Wildeman expected to see 6 percent of kids having experienced some sort of neglect or abuse, possibly 8 percent, but no more than that.
“I was quite surprised it was 12 percent,” said Wildeman, adding that they compulsively checked and rechecked the data until they were certain it was accurate.
The study calls child maltreatment as a top-level public health concern, pointing out that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that child abuse and neglect costs the U.S. $124 billion annually.
The public health concerns associated with child abuse can be overlooked by policy makers, who often react to abuse after it has already occurred, rather than make policies to diminish the maltreatment of children, according to Wildeman, who added that he hopes the research has a impact on public policy and future research.