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Home > Practice Areas > Child Protection > About this Area of Focus


Child Protection: About this Area of Focus

CWLA believes keeping children safe from abuse and neglect should always be the first goal of any child protective services (CPS) response. The best ways to ensure children are safe from all forms of maltreatment are comprehensive, community-based approaches to protecting children and supporting and strengthening families. Public and private agencies, in collaboration with individual citizens and community entities, can prevent and remedy child maltreatment, achieve child safety, and promote child and family well-being.

Following is a list of key findings from the report Child Maltreatment 20021


Each week, CPS agencies receive more than 50,000 referrals--also called reports--alleging that children have been abused or neglected.
  • Nationally, more than two-thirds (67.1%) of all referrals (approximately 1.8 million) were screened in because they were deemed appropriate for investigation or assessment, and 32.9% (approximately 861,000) were screened out.

  • Professionals submitted more than half (56.5%) of screened-in referrals.

  • More than one-quarter of investigations or assessments resulted in a "Substantiated" (26.8%), "Indicated" (3.5%), or "Alternative Response Victim" (0.1%) disposition, meaning that at least one child involved in an investigation was determined to be a victim. More than half (60.4%) of investigations led to a finding that the alleged maltreatment was "Unsubstantiated."


Victims of maltreatment are defined as children who experience or who are at risk of experiencing abuse or neglect.
  • Nationally, an estimated 896,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect in 2002. The 2002 victimization rate was 12.3 per 1,000 children.

  • In 2002, 60.5% of victims suffered neglect (including medical neglect), 18.6% were physically abused, 9.9% sexually abused, and 6.5% emotionally or psychologically maltreated.

  • Percentages of victims were similar for males (48.1%) and females (51.9%).

  • Children in from birth to age 3 accounted for 22% of victims.

  • More than half of all victims were white (54.2%); one-quarter was African American (26.1%); and one-tenth was Hispanic (11%). American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Asian Pacific Islanders together accounted for 0.9% of victims.

  • In comparison to physically abused children, neglected children were 46% more likely to experience recurrence.


A perpetrator of child abuse or neglect is defined as a parent or a caregiver who has maltreated a child.
  • Women comprised 58.3% of all perpetrators. Female perpetrators were typically younger than male perpetrators--42.5% of females compared with 32.4% of males were younger than 30 years old.

  • The largest percentage of perpetrators (81%) were parents.

  • More than half of all perpetrators (53.3%) neglected children.


Child fatality estimates are based on data recorded by CPS agencies or other agencies, such as coroner's offices or fatality review boards.
  • Nationally, an estimated 1,400 children died of abuse or neglect in 2002--a rate of 1.98 children per 100,000 in the population.

  • Approximately 1.2% of child fatalities occurred in foster care.

  • Children younger than 1 year accounted for 41.2% of fatalities; 76.1% of fatalities were children younger than 4.

  • Maltreatment deaths were more often associated only with neglect (37.6%) than with any other type of abuse.


CPS agencies provide services to prevent future instances of child abuse or neglect and to remedy conditions that have come to the attention of the child welfare agency. Preventive services are provided to parents whose children are at risk of abuse or neglect. Postinvestigation services are offered to families on a voluntary basis by child welfare agencies or are ordered by the courts to ensure the safety of children.
  • Nationally, an estimated 2.4 million children received preventive services.

  • The weighted average time from the start of an investigation to providing services was 54 days.

  • More than half of the child victims (58.7%, or an estimated 526,000) received postinvestigation services; more than one-fourth of nonvictims (31.1%, or an estimated 708,000 children), received postinvestigation services.

  • Nearly one-fifth of victims (18.9%) were removed from their homes as a result of investigations or assessments. In addition, 4.2% of nonvictims were placed in foster care. Nationally, an estimated 265,000 children were placed in foster care as a result of child abuse investigations or assessments.

  • Court actions were initiated for 17.8% of victims. Nearly one-fifth of victims (17.8%) were reported as having court-appointed representatives.

  1. Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. (2003). Child Maltreatment 2002. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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