A recent report from the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics reveals national indicators and trends of child well-being in the United States. As of 2015, children under one year of age continue to experience maltreatment at more than twice the rate of any other age group, and this trend is only getting worse. Younger children are more vulnerable to abuse or neglect—more than one in four children who are abused and about three-quarters who die from related causes are younger than 3 years old. Nearly half of all maltreatment related deaths are children under the age of one.
Any form of maltreatment is known to have serious consequences for outcomes later in life. As they grow up, children who have been abused or neglected are more likely to commit crimes, become pregnant as teenagers, abuse their own children, engage in risky sexual behaviors, experience mental illness, die by suicide and abuse alcohol or other drugs.
The federal government defines 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.” This definition is interpreted differently, however, from state to state. In most states, neglect includes failure to provide necessary supports for health and well-being like food, shelter, and medical care. Other states include, for instance, failure to ensure the child receives an education or mental health care, or withholding medical care for infants with disabilities.
It is also important to note that child maltreatment is very difficult to estimate accurately. Communities, parents, children and families are unlikely to report abuse or neglect to the extent that it occurs. The Administration on Children, Youth and Families’ Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 50-60% of deaths caused by maltreatment are not recorded on death certificates.
Overworked, overcrowded, and uncoordinated foster care and child welfare systems are often unable to adequately address reports of abuse. Since many children are abused or neglected by parents experiencing their own lack of knowledge, stressors, and mental health issues, supporting parents and communities prior to child maltreatment should be a necessary focus of any intervention.
Feature image from America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Wellbeing, 2017