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5 Significant Findings On Child Abuse From The U.S. Federal Government

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families has been publishing “Child Maltreatment” annually since 1992. The new edition, “Child Maltreatment 2015,” is available in PDF, along with raw data tables by state. You can also access the older versions going back to 1995.

All of the following information is taken from this report and can be sourced back to it. (Note: Fiscal year 2015 means October 2014-September 2015.)

5 Significant Findings

  • The number of reports to Child Protective Services is trending upward. Yet, looking only at reports to CPS as a baseline, the actual percentage of victimized children is miniscule. This could mean that child abuse isn’t happening all that much, or it could mean that it’s underreported. More research is clearly needed.
  • People unrelated to the child who come into professional contact with the child are far more likely to report abuse than their relatives. Awareness campaigns should be targeted to them.
  • Infants are the most-victimized age group. More attention needs to be paid to their needs, since they cannot even speak, much less report what is happening to them.
  • Women are more likely to be reported as victimizers than men. We should not stereotype abusers by gender.
  • Neglect is by far the most prevalent form of abuse. Particularly since forms of abuse overlap, and sexual abuse is underreported, neglect can be viewed as an indicator of other kinds of abuse potentially occurring. We need not look for bruises or signs of sexual abuse.

Key Statistics


  • There was a 9% increase in the estimated number of children receiving an investigation or alternative response from CPS between 2011-2015, from 3,081,000 to 3,358,000.
  • Abut 20% of children reported to CPS were found to be victimized (683,000 out of 3.4 million) – slightly less than 1% of the overall national child population.
  • Infants aged 0-1 year were the most likely to be victimized (2.4% of general population).
  • 43.2% of victims were White, 23.6% were Hispanic and 21.4% were African-American.
  • About 75% of victims were neglected; 17% were physically abused; and 8.4% were sexually abused.
  • It is estimated that 1,670 children died of abuse and neglect; this is equivalent to 2.25 per 100,000 children nationally.


  • About half a million perpetrators reported overall (522,476).
  • 83.4% were aged 18-44.
  • Slightly more than half were female (54.1%), 45% were male, and .9% were of unknown sex.
  • 48.7% were White, 20% were African-American and 19.5% were Hispanic.
  • 61.5% mistreated only one victim; 21.5% two victims; and 17% three or more.

Who Reported

Professionals who had contact with the alleged victims, not parents or other relatives, were the most likely to contact CPS.

  • 18.4% teachers
  • 18.3% anonymous and “unclassified”
  • 18.2% law enforcement
  • 18.2% friends, neighbors, relatives
  • 10.9% social services 

Technical Stuff


Federal legislation defines child abuse and neglect as:

“Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” (p. viii) 

There are four types of behaviors that authorities are concerned about; they happen individually or together:

  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Psychological maltreatment
  • Sexual abuse


Data for this report comes from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). The system collects information “submitted voluntarily” by all 50 states; Washington, DC; and Puerto Rico by their respective Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies.

Information is fed into NCANDS only from CPS reports that are referred for further action. Data includes:

  • Alleged and actual mistreatment
  • Response by CPS and services provided
  • Risk factors for child and caregivers
  • Perpetrator information

It should be noted that not all allegations deemed actionable lead to investigations; sometimes there is only alternative treatment, e.g. consultation with the family to offer assistance. Alternative treatment followups are included in this data. (p. viii-ix)

All Data Is Flawed

It should be noted that the quality of the data provided here depends on the reliability of CPS to provide it, and of the Administration for Children and Families to process it effectively. I’m not in a position to evaluate either, and so the content of the report is shared without comment as to its limitations.

If You Want To Do More With The Numbers

The government makes “restricted use files” of NCANDS data available at the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect (NDACAN) at Cornell University. According to the report, help is available from this resource for researchers who want to conduct statistical analyses of the data. (I have not verified this.) The contact information provided is or 607–255–7799.


By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author’s own. This blog is posted in the author’s personal capacity. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License. For more information, visit

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