This page provides basic information and statistics about child maltreatment (CM).  We have broken down this complex issue into different aspects including definitions, state laws, treatment, economic impact, and housing.

Although some researchers make a distinction between them, the term Child Maltreatment is used to refer to physical, emotional, sexual abuse and or neglect, including exploitation, and trafficking.

Click each topic to expand and explore the linked sources.

Definition of Maltreatment

World Health Organization Definition

“Child maltreatment is the abuse and neglect that occurs to children under 18 years of age. It includes all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. Exposure to intimate partner violence is also sometimes included as a form of child maltreatment.”

More Information


Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)

“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.”

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Incidence and Prevalence in the U.S.

“For FFY 2019, there are nationally 656,000 (rounded) victims of child abuse and

“74.9 percent of victims are neglected, 17.5 percent are physically abused, and 9.3 percent are sexually abused.”

A non-CPS study estimated that 1 in 4 children experience some form of child abuse or neglect in their lifetimes and 1 in 7 children have experienced abuse or neglect in the last year

“A national estimate of 1,840 children died from abuse and neglect

“For FFY 2019, approximately 4.3 (4,255,946) million children are the subjects of reports”

“During FFY 2019, CPS agencies across the nation screened in 2.4 million (2,368,325) referrals in all 52 reporting states. This is a 5.8 percent increase from the 2.2 million (2,237,754) screened-in referrals during 2015.”

“The youngest children are the most vulnerable to maltreatment, with 45.4 percent
of child fatalities younger than 1 year old and who died at a rate of 22.94 per
100,000 children in the population of the same age.”

37 percent of U.S. children prior to their 18th birthday are the subject of an investigated child neglect and abuse report — and 53 percent of black children. 


There are multiple barriers to identifying, screening, intervening, and preventing child maltreatment. 

Underreporting & Mandated Reporting

Child maltreatment is underreported in the United States. Mandatory reporting laws require various professionals to make reports, thereby helping to reduce underreporting of child maltreatment.

However, professionals may fail to report suspicions of maltreatment despite mandatory reporting policies.

Current research efforts include exploring why this occurs. 

‘Siloing’ of Services

In the US there are multiple separate services that come in contact with children. Over the past century, the names of these separate services, or siloes have changed.

We now refer to them with terms such as: “health system,” “child welfare system,” “educational system,” “juvenile justice system,” and so on.

However, the number of these services has become problematic because these services are structured by different policies, in different buildings, and embedded in different parts of government.

As a result, imagining collaboration, communication, and coordinated efforts to improve child maltreatment is burdened due to these large-scale structural separation in services that interact with kids either directly or otherwise*

The Data SMART Project aims to create a common core structure for reporting child maltreatment that states and organizations may use in efforts to create a better system of maltreatment reporting and modeling across state lines to improve child social and health outcomes.

*i.e. adult criminal court can impact a child’s supervision, resources, and attachment.


State Laws

Different jurisdictions like states, territories and Nations have developed their own definitions of what constitutes child abuse for the purposes of removing children from their families or prosecuting a criminal charge.

However, these laws are not uniform because there is no universal definition of child maltreatment for all states. There have been federal laws like CAPTA which gives guidelines to states. For more information, select Definitions of Maltreatment topic.

As a result, differences in state definitions make child maltreatment surveillance difficult.

This creates a barrier in observation, screening, intervention and prevention efforts.

For each US state’s definition of child abuse, we suggest this resource.

Economic Impact

The total lifetime economic burden resulting from new cases of fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment in the United States in 2008 is approximately $124 billion. In sensitivity analysis, the total burden is estimated to be as large as $585 billion.


Families and children make up approximately one-third of the nation’s homeless population, putting those children at greater risk of neglect or being placed in out-of-home care.

Listen to how San Francisco—one of the most expensive places to live—responds to this challenge through a partnership between child welfare and local housing agencies.

Through a Children’s Bureau grant, the Families Moving Forward project (later named Bringing Families Home) connects child welfare agencies with local housing partners to reduce barriers and help families sustain stability and well-being for their children.

In this two-part conversation, Jocelyn Everroad from the San Francisco Human Service Agency and Kylie Woodall, a lead housing specialist with the Homeless Prenatal Program, share how it all works, and how to create effective working relationships.

For more on why housing stability is essential to improving child welfare outcomes, visit these resources.

These facts and statistics are updated often. Contact us with questions or contributions at

“Child abuse and neglect is a widespread and complex problem, linked to a number of negative downstream outcomes and incurring substantial costs across individual, family and societal levels,” – Dr. Melissa Jonson-Reid