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.”

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.”

Incidence and Prevalence in the U.S.

According to data collected from child welfare agencies across the US in 2021 (USDHHS, 2023):

  • In the 2021 federal fiscal year, 3 million children were subjects of an investigation or alternative response by CPS.
  • Of these investigations, 588,229 children were identified as victims of child abuse and neglect.
  • 76% of victims were neglected, 16% were physically abused, and 10.1% were sexually abused.
  • 1,820 children died from abuse and neglect. 45.6% of these fatalities were children under 1 year old.
  • Professionals submitted the majority of reports (67%), mostly from legal and law enforcement, education personnel, and medical personnel.

Additionally, about 37% of children are the subject of a CPS investigation before they turn 18. The prevalence is highest for Black children, with 53% experiencing an investigation (Kim et al., 2017).

Barriers to Prevention, Identification, and Intervention

Child maltreatment is underreported in the US. 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. 

In the US, there are multiple separate services that come in contact with children. These include the health system, the child welfare system, the educational system, and the juvenile justice system. However, these services are separated from each other, embedded in different parts of the government with different policies and procedures. As a result, this siloing has hindered effective collaboration and coordinated efforts to address child maltreatment.

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.

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. Federal laws like CAPTA give guidelines to states, but differences in state definitions make child maltreatment surveillance difficult. This creates a barrier in observation, screening, intervention and prevention efforts.

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 Bringing Families Home Program in California 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.

“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