On January 21, 2022, the Children’s Bureau released the annual child abuse and neglect report: Child Maltreatment 2020. This year’s report based on data and reports in the first year of the pandemic, shows an overall decrease in abuse and neglect reports and fatalities, but the numbers also highlight some troubling trends or questions:
- A 10% drop in the number of cases in the early days of the pandemic, attributed to fewer contacts with teachers and caregivers during shutdowns.
- A 17% increase in the number of Black child fatalities when compared with the previous year’s report. Black children are now three times more likely to die of suspected child abuse or neglect than white children.
- An 11% increase in the number of babies born with prenatal substance exposure over last year’s numbers.
“Disparities that were present before the pandemic were intensified, and COVID-19 exposed gaps in our human services delivery system,” said Aysha E. Schomburg, Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau, in a statement released with the report.
For fiscal year 2020, there are nationally an estimated 618,000 victims of child abuse and neglect (656,000 in 2019). The victim rate is 8.4 victims per 1,000 children in the population. Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies received a national estimate of 3.9 million (3,925,000) total referrals, including approximately 7.1 million children. The national rate of screened-in referrals is 28.9 per 1,000 children in the national population. Among the 47 states that report both screened-in and screened-out referrals, 54.2% of referrals are screened in and 45.8% are screened out.
Reporters. For 2020, professionals submitted 66.7% of reports alleging child abuse and neglect. The term “professionals” includes teachers, police officers, lawyers, and social services staff. The highest percentages of reports are from legal and law enforcement personnel (20.9%), education personnel (17.2%, a decrease from last year), and medical personnel (11.6%).
Nonprofessionals, including friends, neighbors, and relatives, submitted fewer than one-fifth of reports (17.0%).
- Children younger than 1 year old had the highest rate of victimization at 25.1 per 1,000 children of the same age in the national population.
- The victimization rate for girls is 8.9 per 1,000 girls in the population, which is higher than boys at 7.9 per 1,000 boys in the population.
- American Indian or Alaska Native children have the highest rate of victimization at 15.5 per 1,000 children in the population of the same race or ethnicity.
- African American children have the second highest rate at 13.2 per 1,000 children of the same race or ethnicity.
Type of Maltreatment. The Children’s Bureau also reports the different types of maltreatment experienced. A victim may have more than one type of maltreatment, which means that percentages may add up to more than 100%. For FFY 2020, 76.1% of victims are classified as neglect, 16.5% are physically abused, 9.4% are sexually abused and 0.2% are sex trafficked.
The number of victims for whom physical abuse was confirmed declined by 11% in 2020, whereas the share of victims that experienced sexual abuse dropped by 5%. Cases involving neglect declined by 4%.
Acting Assistant Secretary JooYeun Chang, in a statement released with the report, noted, “One thing hasn’t changed — the vast majority of children come to our attention because of neglect — we must do more to provide services and supports to families before problems, often related to or exacerbated by poverty, become crisis.”
Child Fatalities. For 2020, an estimated 1,750 children died from abuse and neglect at a rate of 2.38 per 100,000 children in the population. The child fatality demographics show:
- The youngest children are the most vulnerable to maltreatment, with 46.4 percent of child fatalities younger than 1 year old.
- Boys have a higher child fatality rate than girls.
- The rate of African American child fatalities is 3.1 times greater than the rate of White children and 3.6 times greater than the rate of Hispanic children.
Prevention Services. CPS agencies provide services to children and their families, both in their homes and in foster care. During 2020:
- Forty-six states reported approximately 2.0 million (1,963,369) children received prevention services. (An increase of 61,000). The biggest source of federal funding being the IV-B Promoting Safe and Stable Families.
- Approximately 1.2 million (1,159,294) children received post-response services from a CPS agency.
- Approximately two-thirds (59.7%) of victims and one third (27.1%) of nonvictims received post-response services.
Legal Representation. With greater efforts to promote legal representation to children and families who have contact with CPS and child welfare systems, the report indicates that twenty-six states reported 57,525 victims (20.1%) have court-appointed representatives. This is a slight increase from 2019 when 25 states reported 53,253 victims (17.2%) had court-appointed representatives. Under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) there is a requirement for states to provide a Guardians ad litem or Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) in every case.
Special Focus on COVID-19. The Special Focus chapter for the 2020 report highlighted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the child welfare system. The analyses included in this chapter for FFY 2020 focus on quarterly analyses of child welfare data during the COVID-19 pandemic by comparing FFY 2020 quarterly data (October 2019 through September 2020) with the same quarters from FFY 2019 (October 2018 through September 2019).
A key takeaway from this chapter is that the decline in child abuse and neglect reports in 2020 is largely attributed to less contact with school personnel; while the number of reports from other professionals was mostly steady, there was a sharp decline in reports from educators, particularly in the early days of the pandemic. Victims in the age range of 6–12 had the largest percent decrease. After a decrease in reports through schools the category of child day care providers had the second largest overall decrease of 22.3 percent for FFY 2020 when compared with FFY 2019. The category least affected by the pandemic is legal and law enforcement personnel, which had an overall decrease of 2.6 percent for FFY 2020 when compared with FFY 2019.
The report says in conclusion, “In summary, child welfare agencies made significant efforts to continue operations and ensure the safety of CPS workers and the children and families in their care. While CPS agencies did not see an increase in abuse or neglect referrals even after many lockdown restrictions were lifted during July–September 2020, many states did not fully open and many schools did not go back to in-person learning until 2021. It may not be until FFY 2021 data are analyzed that the full impact of the pandemic on child maltreatment is known.”