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Home > National Fact Sheet 2003 > National Fact Sheet 2000


National Fact Sheet 2000

Children Reported as Abused an Neglected and Referred for Investigation


  • In 1997, an estimated 2,980,000 children were reported abused or neglected. After follow-up assessments, officials were able to substantiate just under one million (889,665) of these cases. 1

  • Every day in this country, more than 3 children die as a result of abuse and neglect. In 1997, an estimated 1,197 children died as a result of abuse and neglect; 77% of those children died before reaching their third birthday.  2

  • Violence occurs against women and children in the same family. Research indicates that from 30 to 60% of men who assault their female partners also abuse their children.  3

  • In 1998, 520,000 children lived in out-of-home care-family foster care, kinship care, or residential care. Sixty percent of these children returned to their birth families. The average age of children in foster care was 9.5 years and the average time that children remained in foster care was 33 months 4. Children averaged 3.2 different foster placements.  5

  • Children of color are disproportionately represented in the foster care population. Of the children in foster care as of March 1998: 45% were African American, 35% were Caucasian, and 13% were Hispanic.  6

  • Of the children in foster care in 1998, 110,000 had a goal of adoption. Of that total, 37,000 were legally free and awaiting adoption. Of the children waiting to be adopted from foster care in 1998: 56% were African American, 28% were Caucasian, and 9% were Hispanic.  7

  • Of the children adopted from foster care in 1997: 2% were under age 1, 44% were ages 1-5, 37% were ages 6-10, 15% were ages 11-15, and 2% were ages 16-18; 43% of the group waited more than one year from the time they became legally free for adoption until they were placed in an adoptive home. Foster parents adopted 64% of these children.  8

  • Compared with the U.S. population as a whole, children involved in the child welfare system are more likely to be poor and in poor health. 9 Adolescents in foster care are among those most at risk to abuse alcohol or drugs, contract and transmit HIV infection, or become teen parents.  10

  • Mental health problems affect 1 in 5 young people at any given time. 11 An estimated two-thirds of all young people with mental health problems are not getting the help they need.  12

  • Up to 4.7 million children are potentially eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled.  13

  • An estimated 1.35 million children in the U.S. are homeless. 14 Children made up 23% of the homeless population in 1996, a 10% increase since 1987. Young people ages 17 to 24 comprised 12% of the homeless population in 1996, a total that has doubled since 1987. Twenty-seven percent of homeless adults in 1996 reported having lived in foster care, a group home, or other institutional setting for part of their childhood.  15

Many Families in Child Welfare Have Serious Substance Abuse Problems

  • A major factor in child abuse and neglect, substance abuse is associated with the placement of at least half of the children in the custody of child welfare.  16

  • Substance abuse is a treatable public health problem with cost-effective solutions. 1718

  • Eighty-five percent of states report that parental substance abuse and poverty are the top two problems in child protective caseloads. 19

  • Children whose parents abuse drugs and alcohol are almost three times more likely to be abused and more than four times more likely to be neglected than children of parents who are not substance abusers.  20

  • Among female substance abuse treatment clients who are parents, 44% reported they entered substance abuse treatment in order to retain or regain custody of their children.  21

  • Forty-six percent of parents with substance abuse problems involved in the child welfare system were neither offered or provided substance abuse services. 22

Violent Crime By Juveniles Down; Serious Problems Remain

  • Between 1993 and 1998, there was a 56% decline in juvenile homicides, a 37% decline in violent youth crime, and a 14% decline in overall youth crime. 23

  • While juvenile violent crime arrests have declined in recent years, the number of juvenile Violent Crime Index arrests in 1997 was 49% above the 1988 level. In 1997, law enforcement agencies in the United States made an estimated 2.8 million arrests of persons under age 18. 24

  • In 1997, 4,205 young people, ages 0-19, were killed by firearms, nearly 12 every day. 25

  • A Sacramento County, California study found that children ages 9-12 who were referred to child welfare were 67 times more likely to be arrested than other 9-to-12-year-olds. Fully half of all children arrested were from the 1.4% of all children who were known to child welfare. 26

Economy Soars Yet Child Poverty Remains High

  • Nearly 1 in 5 children (18.9 %) lived below the poverty line ($16,660 for a family of four) in 1998; 8% of children lived in extreme poverty in families with cash incomes less than 50% of the poverty line (below $8,330 a year or $694 a month). Children under age 6 living with single mothers had a poverty rate of 54.8%. 27

  • Children made up 26% of the nation's population in 1998, but 39% of the poor. 28

  • In 1998, 36% of African American children, 34% of Hispanic children, and 14% of white children lived in poverty. 29

Cost Effective Investments In Children Save Dollars And Lives

  • Untreated substance abuse costs American taxpayers $276 billion a year. 30

  • An untreated drug addict can cost society an estimated $43,200 annually, compared with an average $16,000 for a year of residential care or $1,500 in an outpatient program. 31

  • For each dollar spent for substance abuse treatment services, more than $11 are saved in social costs.  32

  • Providing a family with housing assistance costs less than placing the children into foster care due to a lack of decent housing. Monthly Section 8 rental assistance for an entire family of four is $475. 33 By contrast, the basic monthly family foster care maintenance payment for just one child ranges from $356 for 2 year olds to $431 for 16 year olds and does not include an average of 40% or more in other related program costs.  34

  • Investing in prevention through early intervention results in substantial cost savings. A RAND Corporation study of a nurse home visitation program in Elmira, NY, estimates that by the time children from participating families reach age 15, the program's cost savings are four times the original investmentūdue to reductions in crime, welfare expenditures, and health care costs, and as a result of taxes paid by working parents. 35


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1999). Children’s Bureau, Child Maltreatment 1997: Reports from the states to the national child abuse and neglect data system. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Edleson, J.L. (1999). The Overlap between Child Maltreatment and Woman Abuse [Online]. Available:
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. (1999). The AFCARS Report [Online]. Available:
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. (1999). Guidelines for Public Policy and State Legislation Governing Permanence for Children. Washington, DC: Author.
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. (1999). The AFCARS Report [Online]. Available:
  7. Ibid.
  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. (1999). The AFCARS Report [Online]. Available:
  9. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption and Dependent Care. (February 1994). Health care of children in foster care, Pediatrics 93(2), 1-4.
  10. Ibid.
  11. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (1996). Fact sheet: Conduct disorders in children and adolescents. Washington, DC: Author.
  12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA. (1996).
  13. The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. (June 1998). Washington, DC: Author.
  14. Burt, M. & Aron, L. (2000). America’s Homeless II: summary of findings. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
  15. Burt, M.&Aron, L. (1999). Homelessness: programs and the people They serve; summary report: finding of the national survey of homeless assistance providers and clients. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
  16. Child Welfare League of America. (1997). Alcohol and other drug survey of state child welfare agencies. Washington, DC: Author.
  17. Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy. (March 1998). Press release of a study sponsored by the Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy.
  18. Finigan, M. (1996). Societal outcomes & costs savings of drug and alcohol treatment in the state of Oregon. Salem, OR: Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, Oregon Department of Human Resources and Governor’s Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs.
  19. National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. (1999). Current trends in child abuse reporting and fatalities: NCPCA’s 1998 annual fifty state survey. Washington, DC: Author.
  20. Kelleher, K., Chaffin, M., Hollenberg, J., & Fischer, E. (1994). Alcohol and drug disorders among physically abusive and neglectful parents in a community-based sample. American Journal of Public Health, 84(10), 1586-1590.
  21. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (1999). Blending Perspectives and Building Common Ground. Washington, DC: Author.
  22. Ibid.
  23. U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1999, 1994) Crime in the United States: 1998; 1993. Washington, DC: Authors. Calculations by Justice Policy Institute.
  24. Snyder, H. (1998). Juvenile arrests 1997. OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
  25. Children’s Defense Fund, (1999). Children and Guns: Children’s Defense Fund Report on Children Dying from Gunfire in America, Washington, DC: Author.
  26. Child Welfare League of America. (1997). Sacramento County community intervention program: Findings from a comprehensive study by community partners in child welfare, law enforcement, juvenile justice, and the Child Welfare League of America. Washington, DC: Author.
  27. U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1999) Poverty in the United States, March supplement to the current population report. Washington, DC: Author.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Ibid.
  30. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (1998). National household survey on drug abuse. Rockville, MD: Author.
  31. Harwood, H.J.: Thomson, M.; and T. Nesmith, (February 1994) Healthcare reform and substance abuse treatment: the cost of financing under alternative approaches. Fairfax, VA: Lewin-VHI,Inc.
  32. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, (1994) Treatment for alcohol and other drug abuse: Opportunities for coordination. Technical Assistance Publications Series 11. p. ix.
  33. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2000). HUD FY 20001 Budget Summary. Washington, DC: Author
  34. American Public Welfare Association. (1998). AWPA Survey of 1996 Family Foster Care Maintenance Payment Rates. Washington, DC: Author.
  35. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (1998). Prenatal and early childhood nurse home visitation. Washington, DC: Author.

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