More than 12 percent ofchildren in the United States experience neglect, beatings or sexual or emotional abuse, according to a new study thatraises red flags for parents and policy makers.
"One in eight American children, at some point between birth and their 18th birthday,will be maltreated," according to a member of the team that produced the study, Christopher Wildeman, associate professor of sociology at Yale University.The problem is even more serious for Black children, accordingto the study published on line in JAMA Pediatrics,a journal of the American Medical Association.The study, which did not include any recommendations, found one in five Black children suffer at least one confirmed instance of neglect or abuse before they become adults.
Overall, the findings "highlight that confirmed maltreatment is far greater than suggested by single-year national estimates and that the risk [of] formal treatment is particularly high for Black children," according to the report.
Official 2011 data from child protective service agencies across the country puts the overall child abuse figure at one in 100 children.The new study used the same data in the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System,which includes only confirmed cases.
The research team measured the data cumulatively between 2004 and 2011, including all children under 18 who had been reported as victimized. For example, researchers found that by age 4, Black children had a 1 in 10 chance of being maltreated. By 10 years old, the risk was 4 in 25. Put another way, that’s at least four students in every fifth grade class. By 15 years old, a Black youth had a 1 in 5 chance of having a child protective service file. Native American and Latino children followed close behind Black children in their risk of neglect or abuse, the study found.
About 1 in 11 White children suffer neglect or abuse, with the lowest rate among Asian children, where only one in 30 suffer such problems, the study found. There is room for optimism, as the percentage of confirmed cases of abuse and neglect is much lower than 25 years ago, Dr. Wildeman said. But he said the 12 percent rate is far highe rthan he had anticipated. The risk of neglect and abuse is highest early in life, with 2 percent of children having a confirmed report by their first birthday, and nearly 6 percent by their fifth birthday, the study found.
The researchers found that 5.6 million children had been confirmed as abused or neglected in the eight years of data they studied. They then estimated the cumulative prevalence of confirmed maltreatment by age 18. The new numbers don’t surprise Dr. Janet Currie,a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University in New Jersey.
"Child maltreatment is a huge and under appreciated public health problem," said Dr. Currie.In her own recent research, she found that child maltreatment is the leading cause of death from injuries in children older than 1 year. To reduce the risk of mistreatment, friends and family should be especially attentive to the needs of parents of very young children, Dr.Wildeman said. "The risk of childhood maltreatment is about four times higher in the first year than any other age," he said, citing his research.
"When we think of [the data’s] racial disparities,it’s not necessarily bias among CPS, but more about the large problems of social disparities," said Hedwig Lee, a member of the study team. "In many cases parents are overwhelmed and not receiving enough support. That’s a social and economic problem." Children who have been abused or neglected are more likely to engage in criminal activity as teens and/or adults and five times more likely to attempt suicide. One cited study estimates that the social toll stemming from the effects of child maltreatment costs the United States $124 billion every year.