The problem of child maltreatment has persisted as one of the most serious threats to child health and safety in the United States. The most recent National Incidence Study (NIS-4) reported that more than 1.25 million children, involving 1 in 58 children from the general population, were abused or neglected by a parent during the 2005-2006 survey period according to the evidence of harm standard (Sedlak et al., 2010b). When the broader standard of endangerment is applied (which includes maltreatment by adult caretakers other than parents, or by teenaged caretakers in the case of sexual abuse), the number of children in substantiated cases increases to nearly 3 million children, involving 1 in 25 children, according to NIS-4 data.
More recent data, provided in the FY 2010 report Child Maltreatment (HHS, 2011, p. ix), indicates that “the unique victim rate was 9.2 victims per 1,000 children in the population” when considering substantiated reports of child abuse and neglect. The overall rate of child maltreatment deaths, the most tragic consequences of abuse and neglect, was 2.07 deaths per 100,000 children, based on estimates provided by state child welfare agencies (HHS, 2011).
The statistical figures mask a complex picture of child maltreatment, one that frequently challenges the general public’s perception of the nature of the problem of child abuse and neglect. For example:
• Maltreatment is frequently viewed as physical or sexual abuse,yet child neglect reports consistently account for the large majority of the reported cases in national surveys and official records.
• The NISs report that the general incidence of child maltreatmentdeclined by 19 percent (harm standard) in the 12 years between the data reported in NIS-3 (which collected data in 1993) and NIS-4 (Sedlak et al., 2010b). This decline occurred during a period of growth in the child population in the United States. When adjusted to account for such growth, the rate of decline per 1,000 children equals 26 percent, approaching the 1986 incidence level reported in the NIS-2 estimate.
• Most of the rates of decline can be explained by significant decreases in reports of physical or sexual abuse of children; the level of child neglect reported in NIS-4 has remained about the same as that reported in NIS-3. Finkelhor and Jones (2006) offer