Michael J. Prince, B.A., Psychology


Child Abuse Characteristics Highlights

These highlights are based on responses from the States to the 1999 National Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting System (NCANDS). Data were collected in aggregate by the Summary Data Component (SDC) survey and at the case level through the Detailed Case Data Component (DCDC). Highlights denoted with an asterisk (*) are the findings whose inclusion in annual State data reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services is required by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) as amended.

Referrals and Reports

As referrals of possible child maltreatment come to the attention of child protective services (CPS), they either are winnowed from consideration or transmitted further for investigation or assessment-"screened out" or "screened in." For those reports screened in, a further determination is made about whether to investigate. The role of the CPS agency includes deciding whether to take further protective actions on behalf of a child.

Of the estimated 2,974,000 referrals received, approximately three-fifths (60.4%) were transferred for investigation or assessment and two-fifths (39.6%) were screened out.

More than half of child abuse and neglect reports (54.7%) were received from professionals. The remaining 45.3 percent of reports were submitted by nonprofessionals, including family and community members.

Most States have established time standards for initiating the investigation of reports. The average response time to initiate investigating reports was 63.8 hours.

Slightly less than one-third of investigations (29.2 %) resulted in a disposition of either substantiated or indicated child maltreatment. More than half (54.7%) resulted in a finding that child maltreatment was not substantiated.

The average annual workload of CPS investigation and assessment workers was 72 investigations.

Child Maltreatment Victims

Victims of maltreatment are defined as children who are found to have experienced a substantiated or indicated maltreatment or are found to be at risk of experiencing maltreatment.

There were an estimated 826,000 victims of maltreatment nationwide. The 1999 rate of victimization, 11.8 per 1,000 children, decreased from the 1998 rate of 12.6.

Almost three-fifths of all victims (58.4 %) suffered neglect, while one-fifth (21.3%) suffered physical abuse; 11.3 percent were sexually abused. More than one-third (35.9%) of all victims were reported to be victims of other or additional types of maltreatment.

The highest victimization rates were for the 0-3 age group (13.9 maltreatments per 1,000 children of this age in the population), and rates declined as age increased.

Rates of many types of maltreatment were similar for male and female children, but the sexual abuse rate for female children (1.6 female children for every 1,000 female children in the population) was higher than the sexual abuse rate for male children (0.4 male children per 1,000).

Victimization rates by race/ethnicity ranged from a low of 4.4 Asian/Pacific Islander victims per 1,000 children of the same race in the population to 25.2 African-American victims per 1,000.

Children who had been victimized prior to 1999 were almost three times more likely to experience recurrence during the 6 months following their first victimization in 1999 than children without a prior history of victimization.


A perpetrator of child abuse and/or neglect is a person who has maltreated a child while in a caretaking relationship to that child.

Three-fifths (61.8%) of perpetrators were female. Female perpetrators were typically younger than their male counterparts-41.5 percent were younger than 30 years of age, compared to 31.2 percent of male perpetrators.

Almost nine-tenths (87.3%) of all victims were maltreated by at least one parent. The most common pattern of maltreatment was a child victimized by a female parent acting alone (44.7%).

Female parents were identified as the perpetrators of neglect and physical abuse for the highest percentage of child victims. In contrast, male parents were identified as the perpetrators of sexual abuse for the highest percentage of victims.


Child fatality estimates are based on data recorded by CPS agencies and/or other agencies.

An estimated 1,100 children died of abuse and neglect, a rate of approximately 1.62 deaths per 100,000 children in the general population.

Slightly more than 2 percent (2.1%) of all fatalities occurred while the victim was in foster care.

Children younger than a year old accounted for 42.6 percent of the fatalities, and 86.1 percent were younger than 6 years of age.

Maltreatment deaths were more often associated with neglect (38.2%) than with any other type of abuse.

Slightly more than one-tenth (12.5%) of the families of child fatalities had received family preservation services in the 5 years prior to the deaths, while only 2.7 percent of the child fatality victims had been returned to the care of their families prior to their deaths.


CPS agencies provide services to prevent future instances of child abuse and neglect and to remedy harm that has occurred as a result of child maltreatment. Preventive services are provided to parents whose children are at risk of abuse or neglect. Remedial or post-investigative services are offered to families that have experienced a child maltreatment episode.

Nationwide, an estimated 1,563,000 children, 22.3 out of every 1,000 children in the population, received preventive services.

The average time from the start of investigation to provision of service was 47.4 days.

Nationally, 55.8 percent of child victims (an estimated 461,000) received post-investigative services, and an additional 14.2 percent of children with unsubstantiated reports (an estimated 217,000) also received services.

Nationally, an estimated 171,000 child victims were placed in foster care. An estimated additional 49,000 children who were not victims (i.e., children with unsubstantiated reports) were placed in foster care.

About one-fifth (21.2%) of victims had received family preservation services within the previous 5 years, while more than 5 percent (5.1%) of victims had been reunited with their families in the previous 5 years.

Court actions were initiated for an estimated 26.1 percent of maltreatment victims. Four-fifths of these victims (79.3%) were provided with court-appointed representatives.