A new federal study will soon be getting rave reviews and making us feel like the nation has made great progress in ending child abuse.

From where I stand, the reported decrease in incidents of serious child abuse tells only part of the story, and is certainly not a cause for celebration.

If anything, this years financial chaos and increase to poverty is having a multiplier effect on families experiencing abuse and violence.

While strides were made during the years measured, there are serious problems in accepting the results as “mission accomplished”.

First, any measurement of child abuse today would need to reflect the number of cases not being accepted as a result of reduced programs and reduced funding due to the financial chaos in our economy.

This is becoming evident in the increase in juvenile justice and criminal justice cases the courts are seeing and the continued increase in prison and jail budgeting at the state and county level.

Second, while the study reflects a good start by some states, many states put very few resources into their programs and simply continued to put youth in prison and ignore preteen mothers (the next generation of abused and neglected children).

It is almost as if there are third world nations within the U.S. that fight for the right to abuse their own young people; as Texas has done when it refused federal funding for health insurance for the children of migrant farm workers, and just last month refusing the governments’s big grant for failing Texas schools.

Texas is just one example of a state that ranks at the very bottom of all the states along with Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, in how it treats its youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

APNewsBreak: US Study Shows Drop in Child Abuse
APNewsBreak: Federal study finds sharp drop in serious child abuse between 1993 and 2006
By DAVID CRARY AP National Writer
NEW YORK February 2, 2010 (AP) Read article; http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=9730224

A massive new federal study documents an unprecedented and dramatic decrease in incidents of serious child abuse, especially sexual abuse. Experts hailed the findings as proof that crackdowns and public awareness campaigns had made headway.

An estimated 553,000 children suffered physical, sexual or emotional abuse in 2005-06, down 26 percent from the estimated 743,200 abuse victims in 1993, the study found.

“It’s the first time since we started collecting data about these things that we’ve seen substantial declines over a long period, and that’s tremendously encouraging,” said professor David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire, a leading researcher in the field of child abuse.

“It does suggest that the mobilization around this issue is helping and it’s a problem that is amenable to solutions,” he said.

The findings were contained in the fourth installment of the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, a congressionally mandated study that has been conducted periodically by the Department of Health and Human Services. The previous version was issued in 1996, based on 1993 data.

The new study is based on information from more than 10,700 “sentinels” — such as child welfare workers, police officers, teachers, health care professionals and day care workers — in 122 counties across the country. The detailed data collected from them was then used to make national estimates.

The number of sexually abused children decreased from 217,700 in 1993 to 135,300 in 2005-2006 — a 38 percent drop, the study shows. The number of children who experienced physical abuse fell by 15 percent and the number of emotionally abused children dropped by 27 percent.

The 455-page study shied away from trying to explain the trends, but other experts offered their theories.

“There’s much more public awareness and public intolerance around child abuse now,” said Linda Spears, the Child Welfare League of America’s vice president for public policy. “It was a hidden concern before — people were afraid to talk about it if it She also noted the proliferation of programs designed to help abusers and potential abusers overcome their problems.

Finkelhor, whose own previous research detected a drop in abuse rates, said the study reveals “real, substantial declines” that cannot be dismissed on any technical grounds, such as changing definitions of abuse.

He suggested that the decline was a product of several coinciding trends, including a “troop surge” in the 1990s when more people were deployed in child protection services and the criminal justice system intensified its anti-abuse efforts with more arrests and prison sentences.

Finkelhor also suggested that the greatly expanded use of medications may have enabled many potential child abusers to treat the conditions that otherwise might have led them to molest or mistreat a child.

“There’s also been a general change in perceptions and norms about what one can get away with, so much more publicity about these things,” he said.

One curious aspect of the study was the manner of its release. Although HHS had launched the study in 2004 and invested several million dollars, it was posted a few days ago on the Internet with no fanfare — neither a press release nor a news conference. Finkelhor, noting that experts in the field had been impatiently awaiting the study, described this low-profile approach as “shocking.”

The findings might be disconcerting to some in the child-welfare field who base their funding pitches on the specter of ever-rising abuse rates, said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

“The best use of scarce child welfare dollars is on prevention and family preservation — not on hiring more people to investigate less actual abuse,” said Wexler.

The study found some dramatic differences in child abuse rates based on socio-economic factors. Poor children were three times more likely than other kids to experience abuse, and rates of abuse in African-American families were significantly higher than for whites and Hispanics.Family structure also was a factor — for example, children whose single parent had a live-in partner faced an abuse rate 10 times that of a child living with two parents.

Wexler said a primary reason for the overall drop in abuse rates was the relatively prosperous economy during the period under study.

“The fact that the economic gains were unequal explains why maltreatment declined less in black families,” he said.

The main author of the study, Andrea Sedlak of the Rockville, Md.-based research firm Westat Inc., said she was heartened by the overall findings of declining abuse rates. However, she was troubled to find that more than half of child maltreatment incidents are not investigated by child-protection agencies.

“Is the system still so strapped?” she asked. “There’s still a lot of material here saying the system has a long way to go.”

The study does not cover the recent period in which the United States plunged into a recession, prompting some reports of increased domestic violence and abuse in hard-off families.

7 Comments

  1. Michael, I agreed. The world financial crisis has changed the way on how States manage its money. In New Jersey, many programs have been cut and it has been having a direct impact in almost every service provider agency statewide. Indeed, poverty and lack of income caused many families’ problems…so, getting money to support community programs is the main point. However, we are also exceptional witnesses of changes in our society’s customs and behaviors due to many different causes.

    One of those is due to lack of parental education, the wrong view of some parents about their children.”Without their guidance the young are easy to fall into criminal activities (they do not have the same responsibilities, opportunities or capacities-). Juvenile crime, in other words, is portrayed as a function of economic class, parental neglect, narcotic addiction, boredom, unemployment and the abundance of alcohol”. Actually, recent data shows how young girls and boys, even children are likely to become professional sex workers. Consequently, we all see more adolescent’s pregnancy and minor prostitution which are never happen before in our society.

    Whom we will go to blame?

    Our challenge is helping to find a solution….
    Understanding about the causes of our children and the youth problems is the beginning of the solution. Then, we all need to trace the root of all the changing faces of today’s youth and children before blaming economical, social or political situations. Perhaps, because of such attitude children and the youth today fine adjust with their parents.

    Michael, do not take me wrong, I admire your hard work, and I am myself an advocate for abused children. My words are just a contribution on how I look at the whole picture…

    Human trafficking is another chapter!

  2. Studies come and go all the time. One day using our cell phone will kill us, the next study says that our Microwave will cause cancer. I will agree that awareness regarding child abuse and neglect has increased. But I will have to disagree to the statement of intolerance. I see grown adults, who know better, not want to get invovled. This happens over and over again. It is so much easier to beleive that abuse doesn’t happen and that parents are not capable of doing things to their children that they do. Programs are closing at a rapid pace. Intervention is not happening. The Department is in reactive mode. Preventative measures are not being put into place so that abuse will be stopped before it begins. We have a LONG way to go as a nation before we can celebrate at all.

  3. During one of my recent CASA visits, I spoke with a social worker who covers a section of my state. She stated that she has seen a number of parents who prostitute their children for money, but she and the authorities have a hard time obtaining proof that stands up in court. She went on to state that the same happened to these parents when they were children as well. I could not get any more details at the time, but her comments gives me one more reason to be more observant as I encounter children in the system. Obviously we have more work to do in order to influence positive change in these families. I also am surprised at how many professionals in various arenas have different ideas on what constitutes abuse, exploitation, or human trafficking. Good work, Michael, and thank you for the great information–hopefully we will truly absorb the knowledge that we as adults are responsible for the protection of the children in our society.

  4. Unfortunately people can only live what they learn. If you have not been taught something there is no way of knowing anything different. A family can be dysfunctional and if that is all they know it is normal to them. It will look to us a dysfunctional, but to them they have only lived it therefore it is a learned behavior. Some of the dysfunctional does not constitute abuse as it relates to state statutes; however with progression of the family (i.e. generations down the road) that dysfunction leads to other abuses such as drug and alcohol abuse, etc. We must be proactive when working with families. Not just waiting for abuse that can be prosecuted or brought into dependency / neglect court. We must start with families at the beginning of the child’s life. Appropriate modeled behavior along with direction and a chance to learn something different is what must happen in order to stop this epidemic. Just because this isn’t a medical issue, or even a criminal issue does not mean it is not a social issue that will cripple our nation as we know it. We have to view people as good people who have made bad choices, not bad people that will not be able to change. Change is hard, but it can be accomplished through persistency and respect of all people involved. Our schools, our churches, and our civic groups should all work together to be “the village” to raise these children. What we see from the outside can be far different and deceiving from what it truly happening within a family. No one is exempt from all types of abuse. We should as a society lift people up, not tear them down. If we can accomplish this, then we will be on the road to recovery as families and as a nation.

  5. Michelle, I also agree the cycle has to be broken. As a CASA Volunteer I see children going with grandparents that love them but at the same time the grandparents are going to raise these children the same way they raised their parents and the dysfunctional continues.

  6. Sandra,

    I agree that some times when the children go with the grandparents they are being raised in the same manner as their parents were raised. But that is not a 100% deal. Some grandparents did the right thing and did what they were supposed to do and the parents chose the wrong path. So it is a case by case decision. You casnnot exclude every grandparent because of a parent’s issues, but you DO have to look at the family dynamics and ask some questions. 1) Are all the siblings of this parent haveing social issues? (such as drugs, jail, etc.) or is there just one of the siblings that has chosen the wrong path? There are to many variables with humans to lump everyone into one category and say well all grandparents whould be exluded because they raised the parent. You can also give the grandparents options of learning new and better ways to parent. They again have only lived what they have learned and this is a teaching opportunity. Family is family and being an adopted child in a dysfunctional family I know that no matter what the parent has done the child loves them. So the goal is safety for the child, but at what cost? Lets work on rehabilitating these family to be productive families and let them maintain their family unit if at all possible.

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