Child Abuse and Neglect: The National Scope of the Problem


In the year 2001, an average of 2,475 children were found to be victims of child abuse each day

The impact of abuse is far greater than its immediate, visible effects. Abuse and neglect are associated with short- and long-term consequences that may include brain damage, developmental delays, learning disorders, problems forming relationships, aggressive behavior, and depression.

Survivors of child abuse and neglect may be at greater risk for problems later in life—such as low academic achievement, drug use, teen pregnancy, and criminal behavior—that affect not just the child and family, but society as a whole.


Each week, child protective services (CPS) agencies throughout the United States receive more than 50,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect.

In 2001, nearly 3 million reports concerning the welfare of approximately 5 million children were made.

In approximately two-thirds (67 percent) of these cases, the information provided in the report was sufficient to prompt an investigation. As a result of these investigations, approximately 903,000 children were found to have been victims of abuse or neglect.

More than half (59 percent) of victims experienced neglect, meaning a caretaker failed to provide for the child’s basic needs. Fewer victims were found to have been physically abused (19 percent) or sexually abused (10 percent), though these cases are often more likely to be publicized. The smallest number (7 percent) were found to be victims of emotional abuse, which includes criticizing, rejecting, or refusing to nurture a child.

Tragically, an average of three children die every day as a result of child abuse or neglect.


No group of children is immune.

Boys and girls are almost equally likely to experience neglect and physical abuse.

Children of all races and ethnicities experience child abuse. In 2001, one-half of all reported victims were White (50 percent); one-quarter (25 percent) were African American; and 15 percent were Hispanic. American Indian/Alaska Natives accounted for two percent of victims, and Asian/Pacific Islanders accounted for one percent of victims.

Children of all ages experience abuse, but the youngest children are most vulnerable. Children younger than one year old accounted for 41 percent of child abuse and neglect deaths reported in 2001; 85 percent of the children who died were younger than six years of age.


At least 4 out of 5 victims are abused by at least one parent.

By definition, perpetrators of child abuse and neglect are the very people responsible for the child’s safety and well-being (including parents, other relatives, and babysitters).

Almost half of child victims (41 percent) were abused by just their mother, and one-fifth of victims (19 percent) were abused by both their mother and father.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2003). Child Maltreatment 2001. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online at or by calling the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information at (800) 394-3366. Statistics in Child Maltreatment 2001 refer to cases of harm to a child caused by parents or other caretakers; they do not include harm caused by other people, such as acquaintances or strangers.

Material courtesy of the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information.