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New Child Maltreatment Report Finds Child Abuse and Neglect Decreased to a Five-Year Low

The Children’s Bureau at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) recently released the annual child maltreatment report. The report reveals that of the nationally estimated 3,016,000 children who were the subject of a child welfare agency response in fiscal year (FY) 2021, an estimated 600,000 children were determined to be victims of maltreatment, the lowest number of children identified as victims of maltreatment in the last five years.

The number and rate of fatalities have fluctuated during the past five years. An estimated 1,820 children died from abuse and neglect in FY 2021 compared with an estimated 1,770 children whose deaths were determined as due to maltreatment during FY 2020.

When states submit their data to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, they have the opportunity to provide additional context on the data that will be published in the report. The additional context in today’s report suggests for the second year in a row, decreases in screened-in referrals of alleged maltreatment may have contributed to the changes noted in the 2021 metrics.

“There is no greater responsibility in our work than protecting the safety of children,” says ACF Assistant Secretary January Contreras. “The child maltreatment report tells us that child protection agencies across the country determined that fewer children were victims of abuse and neglect last year. This is the right direction, but there is still much work to be done. ACF will continue to collaborate with our state and community partners to ensure children are safe and to support families to prevent crisis situations when possible.”

Racial and ethnic disproportionality are well-documented in child welfare. This year’s special focus chapter in the child maltreatment report examines racial and ethnic differences within child maltreatment data. There are a variety of complex factors that may explain changes in the disproportionality observed among different racial and ethnic groups in the child welfare system. For example, while the largest percentage of children in the population is white (42.8%), American Indian or Alaska Native children have the highest rate of victimization at 15.2 per 1,000 children in the population of the same race or ethnicity, and African American children have the second highest rate at 13.1 per 1,000 children in the population of the same race or ethnicity. This special focus chapter highlights the importance of disaggregating data to determine where disproportionality exists to gain a better understanding of the populations most affected by it and to aid with targeting specific programs to prevent future disproportionality.

“Racial disproportionality and disparities in child welfare reflect larger societal dynamics," says Aysha E. Schomburg, associate commissioner of the Children’s Bureau at ACF. “Child welfare agencies can collaborate with people with lived experience, community-based organizations and other government agencies to intentionally reduce racial inequities in child welfare and other intersecting systems. A commitment to shared partnership in order to most effectively leverage state and federal resources as well as community expertise is an important factor in addressing these long-standing disparities.”

The child maltreatment report presents FY 2021 data, which are the latest data available and can be found at www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/report/child-maltreatment-2021.

— Source: Administration for Children & Families