Child Maltreatment 2009:

Trends in CPS Reporting and Response

(Originally published December 2010)

The Administration for Children and Families has just released Child Maltreatment 2009, a summary of NCANDS data from 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Some of the major trends indicated by recent NCANDS data include:


-- Child welfare agencies received 3.3 million CPS referrals on 6 million children, and accepted more than 2 million reports for investigation or assessment; 3.3 million unduplicated children received CPS services in 2009.


-- The number of children in accepted CPS reports served in differential  response (DR) systems, i.e., in agencies that utilize an assessment track  for most reports and an investigative track for reports alleging crimes  and other severe incidents of child maltreatment, more than doubled  from 2004 -09 to over 300,000, 9.2% of children served by CPS. As a rule,  caseworkers working in DR assessment tracks do not make CPS findings  such as “substantiated” or “unsubstantiated”, something to keep in mind  when reflecting on the decline in maltreatment (see below).   

-- The number of substantiated victims of child maltreatment continued to decline from 772,000 in 2008 to 763,000 in 2009. The 2009 rate of substantiated maltreatment was 10.1 per1000 children; in the mid- 1990s this rate was higher than 15 per 1000. The nation's rate of substantiated child maltreatment has declined because of (a) an increase in the screen out (at intake) rate of CPS reports, 38.1% in 2009, (b) a decline in the substantiation rate of cases accepted for investigation or assessment -- 22.1% in 09 and (c) a steady increase in the number and percentage of children receiving assessments in differential response systems rather than a CPS investigation, 9.2% in 09. Most of the decline in child maltreatment has been in physical abuse and sexual abuse rather than neglect.

-- Perhaps the most important news in this data is not the small decline in child victims from 08 to 09; but that the nation's rate of child maltreatment did not increase in the midst of a deep recession.


-- States vary to an astonishing degree in their substantiation rates per 1000 children and in the extent to which they substantiate different types of maltreatment. Pennsylvania and Arizona had the lowest substantiation rates per 1000 (1.5; 2.3) in 2009. Minnesota’s substantiation rate was 3.9 per 1000. New York’s 09 substantiation rate was 20.4 per 1000. Massachusetts’s substantiation rate was 27.2 per 1000. Washington D.C.’s substantiation rate was 29.9 per 1000. 20-1 differences in substantiation rates per 1000 children in states’

child populations do not increase confidence in substantiation as a means of determining child treatment rates. 


-- Sex abuse cases accounted for 64% of substantiations in Pennsylvania and 52.9% in Vermont but only 4.3% in Rhode Island, 3.6% in New York and 4.5% in Connecticut. States vary even more widely in the extent to which they substantiate psychological maltreatment, from 0.3% of substantiations in North Carolina, 0.8% in Minnesota, 1.1% in Pennsylvania, to 46.1% in Maine and 51.5% in Utah. Psychological maltreatment is hardly recognized as a type of child maltreatment distinct from physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect in many states, while, in others, some forms of psychological maltreatment for example, DV witnessing, are a major child welfare concern.


-- The percentage of substantiated victims classified as neglected continued to increase from 72% in 08 to over 78% in 09; when the percentage of medically neglected children is added to the general neglect category, over 80% of child victims were neglected in 09. In 2002, about 60% of child victims were found to be neglected.  Even more surprising is the number of states in which 90 - 100% of child victims were neglected: (Connecticut – 97%; New York – 107%; Nebraska – 97.4%; South Dakota – 93.6%; Massachusetts – 103.6%; Kentucky – 95.3%; Rhode Island – 93.1%). In these states, almost all child victims experienced neglect, although varying percentages of these children experienced one or more other types of child maltreatment as well.


-- Forty per cent of child victims and 25.8% of non - victims received post investigation / assessment in - home services. The percentage of non - victim children receiving in -home services has increased from 20% to almost 26% in recent years. In 2009, approximately 770,000 children received post investigation / assessment in- home services.


-- The rate of substantiated maltreatment of infants, 0-1, was 20.6 per 1000, far higher than for children of any other age. NCANDS data indicates that “in general, the rate … of victimization decreased with age.”   


-- CPS placement rates remained constant at a little more than one fifth (20.8%) of victims and 3.6% of non - victims. However, because there were so many more non- victims than victims investigated or assessed following a CPS report, non- victim placements constituted about a third of CPS placements, 87,000 children in 09. There were even more non – victims placed out of the home in 2008, more than 100,000 of 269,000 CPS placements. CPS placement rates have not changed much since 2002 despite the reduction in entries-into-care. Given the stability in CPS placement rates of child victims and non – victims, fewer identified victims of maltreatment has led to fewer entries – into - care, especially among school age children, 6 -15 years of age. 


-- The number of estimated abuse /neglect related child fatalities increased from1720 in 2008 to 1770 in 2009,  very small increase. However, there has been a 21% increase in NCANDS reported child deaths since 2002. Amazingly, more than a third of the child deaths reported in 2009 occurred in three states, California, Florida and Texas (185, 156 and 279 respectively). However, California’s rate of child abuse / neglect related deaths per 100,000 (1.96) was about half the rates of Florida and Texas (3.84 and 4.05). As in most every year, 80% of children who died in abuse / neglect related incidents were 0-3, with infants being the most vulnerable group of children by far. It remains unknown whether the increase in child deaths reported in annual NCANDS reports is the result of better identification and reporting (as state child welfare systems often claim) or represents a real increase in child abuse/neglect related deaths.


-- The Fourth National Incidence Study (NIS -4) estimated that there were 2400 child deaths due to abuse / neglect in 2005 -6 (one year) compared to 1800 child deaths in 1993, the year on which NIS -3 estimates were based. NIS -4 did not find this increase to be statistically significant. 


-- Child welfare agencies reported employing almost 29,800 CPS intake staff and investigators in 2009, a loss of almost 1,000 positions

since 2008. State budget crises are beginning to affect child welfare agencies’ staffing levels.


-- Taken together, Child Maltreatment 2009 describes child welfare systems with highly varying rates of CPS referrals and accepted reports, and vastly different substantiation rates and practices in substantiating various types of child maltreatment. State child welfare systems appear to be hugely different in their approach to psychological maltreatment, with psychological maltreatment constituting as little as 0.3% of substantiations in some states to 46-51% of substantiations in others. 


-- Nevertheless, most states’ child welfare systems have become increasingly involved with neglecting families, and with the protection of infants and other pre – school children in these families.  In seven years, the percentage of child victims found to be neglected in NCANDS data has increased from 60% to almost 80%; and in several states virtually all victims of child maltreatment in 2009 were found to be neglected.


-- The number of children found to be physically abused or sexually abused has been steadily declining in recent years (a 17 -20% decline from 2005 -08) at a rate far exceeding the small decline in victims of neglect. Encouraging progress has been made in preventing physical abuse and sexual abuse; but the key (or keys) to preventing neglect remain elusive.


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