On February 9, 2023, the Children’s Bureau released the annual child abuse and neglect report: Child Maltreatment 2021. This year’s report, which covers the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, reveals that of the nationally estimated 3,016,000 children who were the subject of a child welfare agency response in FY 2021, 600,000 children (estimated) were determined to be victims of maltreatment. This is the lowest number of children identified as victims of maltreatment in the last five years.

Assistant Secretary January Contreras said in a statement, “The child maltreatment report tells us that child protection agencies across the country determined that fewer children were victims of abuse and neglect last year. This is the right direction, but there is still much work to be done. ACF will continue to collaborate with our state and community partners to ensure children are safe and to support families to prevent crisis situations when possible.”

For fiscal year 2021, there are nationally an estimated 600,000 victims of child abuse and neglect, a decrease from 618,000 in 2020. The victim rate is 8.1 victims per 1,000 children in the population. Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies received a national estimate of just under 4 million (3,987,000) total referrals, including approximately 7.18 million children. The national rate of screened-in referrals is 27.6 per 1,000 children in the national population. Among the 47 states that report both screened-in and screened-out referrals, 51.5% of referrals are screened in and 48.5% are screened out.

Reporters. For 2021, professionals submitted 67.0% 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 (21.8%), education personnel (15.4%), and medical personnel (12.2%). Nonprofessionals, including friends, neighbors, and relatives, submitted fewer than one-fifth of reports (17.1%).


  • More than one-quarter (27.8%) of victims are in the age range of birth through 2 years old.
  • Children younger than 1 year old had the highest rate of victimization at 25.3 per 1,000 children of the same age in the national population.
  • The victimization rate for girls is 8.7 per 1,000 girls in the population, which is higher than boys at 7.5 per 1,000 boys in the population.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native children have the highest rate of victimization at 15.2 per 1,000 children in the population of the same race or ethnicity.
  • African American children have the second highest rate at 13.1 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 2021, 76.0% of victims are classified as neglect, 16.0% are physically abused, 10% are sexually abused and 0.2% are sex trafficked. These numbers are remarkably similar to the numbers in FY 2020’s report.

Infants with Prenatal Substance Exposure. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016 amended CAPTA by adding a requirement to report the number of infants with prenatal substance exposure (IPSE), the number of IPSE with a plan of safe care, and the number of IPSE with a referral to appropriate services. States began reporting this data in 2018. FFY 2021 data show

  • 49,194 infants in 49 states being referred to CPS agencies as infants with prenatal substance exposure.
  • The majority (82.9%) of IPSE were screened-in. Of the screened-in IPSE, 84.0 percent have the drug abuse child risk factor, 0.6 percent have the alcohol abuse child risk factor and 15.5 percent have the alcohol and drug abuse child risk factor.
  • Thirty-four states reported nearly one-fifth (17.1%) of IPSE were screened out.

Child Fatalities. For 2021, an estimated 1,820 children died from abuse and neglect at a rate of 2.46 per 100,000 children in the population, an increase from FY 2020’s numbers of 1,750 and 2.38, respectively. The child fatality demographics show:

  • The youngest children are the most vulnerable to maltreatment, with 45.6 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 2.9 times greater than the rate of White children and 3.9 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 2021:

  • Forty-six states reported an estimated 1,761,128 children received prevention services. (A decrease from 1,963,369 in FY2020). The biggest source of federal funding is the IV-B Promoting Safe and Stable Families.
  • Approximately 1.1 million (1,051,818) children received post-response services from a CPS agency.
  • Approximately two-thirds (58.0%) of victims and one third (26.1%) 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-five states reported 52,222 victims (19.7%) have court-appointed representatives. This is a decrease from FFY 2020 when 26 states reported 57,525 victims (20.1%) 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 Racial and Ethnic Disparities. The Special Focus chapter for the 2021 report highlights the racial and ethnic differences found in the child maltreatment data reported this year. Disproportionality in child welfare is well-documented, and there are many factors that contribute to it, including systemic and structural racism.

“Racial disproportionality and disparities in child welfare reflect larger societal dynamics,” said Aysha E. Schomburg, associate commissioner of the Children’s Bureau at ACF. “Child welfare agencies can collaborate with people with lived experience, community-based organizations and other government agencies to intentionally reduce racial inequities in child welfare and other intersecting systems. A commitment to shared partnership in order to most effectively leverage state and federal resources as well as community expertise is an important factor in addressing these long-standing disparities.”

Some data points found throughout the report and included in this chapter are:

  • African-American children make up 13.7% of the population of children, but account for 21.5% of maltreatment victims.
  • African-American children have the highest screened-in referral rate at 66.7 per 1,000 children in the population of the same race or ethnicity.
  • The rate of African-American child fatalities is 5.68 per 100,000, which is 2.9 (rounded) times the fatality rate of White children (1.96 per 100,000) and 3.8 (rounded) times the fatality rate of Hispanic children (1.47 per 100,000).
  • The rate of African-American victims younger than 1 year (44.3 per 1,000 children) is more than twice that of Hispanic victims younger than 1 year at 20.4 per 1,000 children and White victims at 22.1.
  • The rate of American Indian or Alaska Native victims younger than 1 year (56.6 per 1,000 children) is 2.8 (rounded) times higher than the rate of Hispanic victims and 2.6 times the rate of White victims of the same age.