An estimated 896,000 children across the country were victims of abuse or neglect in 2002, according to national data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The statistics indicate that about 12.3 out of every 1,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect, a rate slightly below the previous year's victimization rate of 12.4 out of 1,000 children.
"Our hearts break when we hear of a child being physically or emotionally abused or neglected," HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "The abuse of children remains a national tragedy that demands our commitment and action. President Bush's budget plan gives the child welfare system at the community level more resources and more flexibility to better protect children from abuse and neglect."
The statistics, released at the start of Child Abuse Prevention Month, are based on information collected through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. The data show that child protective service agencies received about 2.6 million reports of possible maltreatment in 2002. There were 896,000 substantiated cases of maltreatment of children, the majority of which involved cases of neglect. About 1,400 children died of abuse or neglect, a rate of 1.98 children per 100,000 children in the population.
The national rate of child neglect and abuse in 2002 was less than the rate in 1993, when maltreatment peaked at an estimated 15.3 out of every 1,000 children. As recently as 1998, the rate was 12.9 per 1,000 children. During the past three reporting years, the maltreatment rate has been fairly constant. Rates for 2000, 2001 and 2002 were 12.2, 12.4, and 12.3 respectively. While Montana has experienced some decreases, it remains higher than the national average for the same time period.
Federal legislation provides a foundation for states by identifying a minimum set of acts or behaviors that define child abuse and neglect. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, as amended by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum:
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.
Within the minimum standards set by federal law, each state is responsible for providing its own definitions of child abuse and neglect. Most states recognize four major types of maltreatment: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Although any of the forms of child maltreatment may be found separately, they often occur in combination.
The examples provided below are for general informational purposes only. Not all state definitions include all of the examples listed below, and individual states' definitions may cover additional situations not mentioned here.
Neglect is failure to provide for a child's basic needs. Neglect may be:
physical, for example, failure to provide necessary food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision;
medical, for example, failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment;
educational, for example, failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs;
emotional, for example, inattention to a child's emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs.
These situations do not always mean a child is neglected. Sometimes cultural values, the standards of care in the community, and poverty may be contributing factors, indicating the family is in need of information or assistance. When a family fails to use information and resources, and the child's health or safety is at risk, then child welfare intervention may be required.
Physical abuse is physical injury - ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death - as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting with a hand, stick, strap or other object, burning, or otherwise harming a child. Such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether the caretaker intended to hurt the child.
Sexual abuse includes activities by a parent or caretaker such as fondling a child's genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.
Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that impairs a child's emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats or rejection, as well as withholding love, support or guidance. Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove and, therefore, child protective services may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm to the child. Emotional abuse is almost always present when other forms are identified.
If you would like additional information regarding child abuse and neglect, please contact your local Division of Child and Family Services at 265-1233.