The Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4), which recently released its findings, shows a 26 percent decrease in the number of maltreated children in the U.S. since the early 1990s.
During the period from 1993 to 2005-2006, the annual rate of sexual abuse declined by 44 percent. The rate of physical abuse declined as well, down 23 percent and the rate of emotional abuse declined 33 percent. However, the rate of emotional neglect rose 83 percent.
“Overall, the NIS findings appear to show that physical and sexual abuse did decline for an extended period from the early 1990s to the mid 2000s,” said Jesse Wolff, CEO of The Kempe Foundation for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect. “This study demonstrates that the issue of child abuse is not hopeless. It shows the impact of working on something over time. A patient, long-term approach to providing solutions to large, complicated issues like child maltreatment is required.”
According to Wolff, factors contributing to the decline in child maltreatment include additional awareness of the issue; a strong economy from 1993 to 2006; a surge in the deployment of child protection services in the 1990s; expanded use of medications to treat potential child abusers; and continued use of evidence based programs that reduce neglect, like Nurse Family Partnership.
Despite the 26 percent decrease, more than 1.25 million children experienced maltreatment during the study years. The study determined that socioeconomic factors greatly contribute to child maltreatment. Children whose parents are unemployed or not part of the labor force are two to three times more likely to experience maltreatment. If the household income and education level is low, maltreatment rates are five times higher than households in higher socioeconomic categories.
“While the decline in child maltreatment in this report is cause for celebration, we are concerned about the post study period from 2006 to today,” said Wolff. “We know that poverty and economic stress are among the leading causes of abuse and neglect. Maltreatment indicators over the period 2007-2010 indicate that the decrease shown in the study may not hold. In addition, lower tax revenues due to the recession have led to significant cuts to budgets of child welfare agencies, school districts, and other front line service providers. The ultimate cure is prevention. We need resources to make that happen.”
The National Incidence Study (NIS) is a congressionally mandated, periodically conducted study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This is the fourth point in time study. NIS conducted the previous studies in 1979-1980, 1986-1987, and 1993-1995. NIS conducted the fourth study in 2005-2006 and just released the results. The executive summary and full NIS-4 report is available online at www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/abuse_neglect/natl_incid/index.html.