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The State of Child Abuse in 2024


5 min read

The State of Child Abuse in 2024

The State of Child Abuse in 2024

What is the state of child abuse in the US in 2024?

It’s impossible to look at child abuse statistics without considering the effect of one of the biggest events impacting the state of child abuse in America: the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic took place from 2020 to 2023, with the greatest toll taking place in 2020, when government-enforced measures led to lockdowns, quarantines, and school closures, sending the nation’s children to isolated homes and stressed families.

Child welfare advocates, mandated reporters, and concerned citizens are still piecing together the puzzling story of child abuse, using conflicting research and data to determine if the pandemic worsened or improved child abuse in the U.S. and whether or not we’re seeing an improvement in child safety and welfare now that the country has moved into a post-pandemic era.

Here’s what we know so far about the state of child abuse as of 2024:

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The Latest Child Abuses Statistics

Recent data from the U.S. government seems to indicate that incidents of child abuse lessened from 2021 to 2022. Several key indicators appear to show a slight downward trend in abuse and neglect over the previous year.

Data from the US government’s National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) lag by two years.

In 2024, we can examine 2022 data, which shows that 3,096,101 million cases of child abuse or neglect were investigated, a decrease from the previous year’s 3,016,000 million.

Investigations resulting in a finding of abuse also decreased from 588,229 in 2021 to 558,899 in 2022.

Investigations revealed:

  • 74.3% were victims of neglect
  • 17% were physically abused
  • 10.6% were sexually abused
  • 6.8% were psychologically mistreated

Child abuse fatalities increased from 2021 to 2022. An estimated 1,990 children died from abuse or neglect in 2022, a devastating increase from the 1,820 that died in 2021.

The Impact of the Pandemic and Post-Pandemic Era on Child Abuse

Both the pandemic and post-pandemic era are impacting incidents and reporting of child abuse.

  • Reporting decreased during the pandemic, possibly due to school closures, where children were removed from the watchful eyes of mandated reporters within educational environments.
  • Decreased reporting did not mean decreased instances of child abuse; pediatric emergency departments reported an increase in emergency visits and hospitalizations due to child abuse during the pandemic.
  • Post-pandemic, a return to in-person learning has correlated with an increase in abuse reports made by educational personnel.

Learn more about these findings:

The pandemic changed family situations in many ways and, in turn, affected the rate of reports and investigations of child abuse claims.

It’s difficult to find a “true” picture of how the pandemic quarantines, lockdowns, and school closures accurately impacted instances and reporting of child abuse.

Some research suggests that the stress of stay-at-home orders and increased rates of unemployment and depression in parents led to an increase in verbal aggression, physical discipline (such as spanking and hitting), and neglectful behaviors towards children.

Additional data shows that, while overall pediatric emergency department (ED) visits were down during the pandemic, there was an increase in the percentage of pediatric ED visits due to child abuse and an increase in child abuse ED visits that resulted in hospitalization, which suggests an increase in child abuse incidents.

Yet, while data suggests an increase in abuse incidents during the pandemic, it also reveals a decrease in abuse reporting.

When more than 55 million students transitioned to virtual learning, it made it more difficult for teachers and other mandated reporters to identify potential abuse. Educators are often the first to spot and report potential problems, and teachers and other school personnel are legally required to report suspected abuse.

In 2022, more children returned to post-pandemic, in-person learning. As expected with this shift, there was an increase in reports made by educational personnel, compared to the lowest point in 2021 with 15.4%, which rose to 20.7% of total reports made in 2022.

  • Prepandemic (2017-2019), the rate of child maltreatment victims in the U.S. averaged 7 out of every 1,000 children.
  • During the pandemic (2020-2023), the rate of child maltreatment victims in the U.S. appears to average 6.5 out of every 1,000 children.
  • It’s unknown if incidents actually decreased or if reporting of incidents decreased.

Abuse incidents and reporting data have only been collected up until 2022 at this point, so it will take some time to fully comprehend how the pandemic impacted the state of child abuse.

Types of Abuse

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) classifies child abuse and neglect as a serious public health problem that can have a long-term impact on health, opportunity, and well-being.

The CDC cites four main areas of concern for children:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Neglect

The Department of Health and Human Services reports these sobering statistics:

  • The youngest children are the most vulnerable to fatal abuse and neglect. In 44.4% of fatalities, the child is less than one year of age.
  • The rate of fatalities among African-American children is 3.3x higher than White children and 3.8x higher than Hispanic children.
  • 76% of the abusers are a parent of the child.
  • More than half (51.2%) of abusers are female

How Significant Is the Problem of Child Abuse?

In the U.S., one out of every six children experienced neglect or abuse within the past year. The CDC also says this number is likely underestimated because not all cases are reported.

The physical and emotional damage to children is staggering. The CDC estimates the total lifetime economic burden resulting from abuse and neglect exceeds $592 billion, which rivals the cost of health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

Abuse and neglected children suffer not only immediate problems but may experience long-term consequences, such as emotional and psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress. Children who are abused also show an increased risk of continuing patterns of abuse. In chronic abuse situations, toxic stress has been shown to alter brain development.

The State of Child Abuse in 2024: Our Takeaway

Our biggest takeaway from looking at data before, during, and after the pandemic is lockdowns and school closures that removed children from educators and school personnel had a direct impact on the number of reports made regarding child abuse and neglect in the U.S. It is apparent from the studies and data provided that removing children from mandated reporters in the school system decreases the number of reports made, yet, in the face of reduced reporting, incidents of abuse continue.

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This post was originally published in 2022 and has been updated for 2024 using the most recent data, reports, studies, and statistics available.

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