Suspected child-abuse and neglect cases reported to public authorities totaled 2.4 million in 1989, a special national advisory board said yesterday in its first report to Congress.
"Each year, hundreds of thousands of children are being starved and abandoned, burned and severely beaten, raped and sodomized, berated and belittled," often by members of their own households, the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect said.
The board, created by Congress and headed by pediatrician Richard D. Krugman, director of the C. Henry Kempe National Center for the Protection and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect in Colorado, said at least 900,000 of the cases had been officially substantiated. It said the 2.4 million is probably "just a fraction of the actual incidence of child abuse and neglect."
The report said poverty, mental health problems, substance abuse and changes in family structure are associated with abuse and neglect problems. It said child-protection agencies within state and local governments have not been given the funds to handle the load. In 1974, the board said, there were only 60,000 reported cases. There is uncertainty whether the increase represents an actual increase in child mistreatment, or whether it is caused in part by changes in public awareness that cause more cases to be reported, which in the past were ignored.
Child maltreatment is seven times more likely in families with incomes under $15,000; more likely among ethnic minorities where poverty is greater than among non-minorities; and more likely in "dysfunctional" neighborhoods without strong community ties among families. Disabled children often are mistreated.
There has been a "huge increase" in the number of cases expected to be handled by child-protection agencies because so many more cases are being brought to public attention, but funds and staff are inadequate. For example, according to one study, "In New York City, in 11 percent of cases, no home visit had occurred within 40 days after reports were filed; . . . children had not been examined in 22 percent of the cases, and alleged perpetrators had not been interviewed in 17 percent."
Because home-based social services are so costly, foster care has increased. At the end of 1988, 340,000 children were living in 125,000 foster homes. "The population in foster care is increasingly older and more disturbed."
The board recommended Congress, local government and state agencies "view the prevention of child abuse and neglect as a matter of national security" and increase support for "basic necessities such as housing, child care, education and prenatal care." It called on President Bush and state and local leaders to become "visible and effective" leaders and spokesmen in this effort.
It also sought more attention to the 1,200 to 5,000 child fatalities from abuse annually. It recommended a variety of efforts to coordinate programs, training more caseworkers and a research program to "determine the cost of developing and implementing a comprehensive national program" to prevent and treat child abuse and neglect.