Researchers estimated the cumulative prevalence of childhood maltreatment using the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System Child File, a database of more than 5.6 million US children with a confirmed report of neglect or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from 2004 through 2011. Based on 2011 rates, an estimated 12.5% of children will suffer confirmed maltreatment by the time they turn 18. Estimates from 2011 data were consistent with estimates from 2004 through 2010.
Young children are at highest risk: 2.1% have been maltreated by 1 year of age and 5.8% by 5 years. Girls, with a cumulative prevalence of 13%, are more likely to suffer maltreatment than boys (12%).
Prevalence is greatest among black children (20.9%) and Native American children (14.5%) and lowest among Asian/Pacific Islander children (3.8%); Hispanic and white children have rates of 13% and 10.6%, respectively. Approximately 80% of maltreatment cases studied involved neglect rather than abuse.
Previously, Child File data have been used to generate annual, rather than cumulative, counts of maltreated children. The annual counts, which show a confirmed maltreatment rate of 1 in 100, dramatically understate the cumulative number of abused and neglected children. Although research indicates that abuse rates have declined over the past 25 years, the cumulative estimates were higher than researchers expected.
Childhood maltreatment is considered a risk factor for lifelong poor health.