12 Percent of American Children Experience Maltreatment

Dr. Christopher Wildeman PhD Associate Professor of Sociology Faculty fellow at the Center for Research on Inequalities and the Life Course (CIQLE), and at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS) at Yale University.MedicalResearch.com Interview with
Dr. Christopher Wildeman PhD
Associate Professor of Sociology
Faculty fellow at the Center for Research on Inequalities and the Life Course (CIQLE), and at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS) at Yale University.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Wildeman: There are four key findings in the study.

First, the cumulative risk of having a confirmed maltreatment report any time between birth and age 18 is much higher than most people would have thought. Fully 1 in 8 American children will experience this event at some point.

Second, the risk of experiencing this event is highly unequally distributed, with Black and Hispanic experiencing it much more than Hispanic, White, and (especially) Asian children. Between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 Black children will have a confirmed maltreatment report at any time in their childhood. For Native American, the risk is about 1 in 7.

Third, the risk of maltreatment is quite similar for boys and girls.

Finally, the highest risks of child maltreatment are in the first few years of life, suggesting that interventions aiming to diminish maltreatment should focus on parents with very young children.

Dr. Wildeman: All of us were quite surprised by just how high the risk was — so surprised, in fact, that we basically started our analysis from scratch a couple times just to be sure we hadn’t done something wrong. It’s just astonishing that 12 percent of American children will ever experience maltreatment so severe or chronic that
(1) it gets reported to Child Protective Services (CPS),
(2) there is sufficient evidence to merit an investigation, and
(3) that there is sufficient evidence to confirm maltreatment occurred.

We were all also shocked at just high the risk was for Black children. 20 to 25 percent is an incredibly high risk, and situates child maltreatment among other childhood events that affect a large number of children.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Wildeman: Above all, clinicians should be aware that parents — especially parents of small children — who seem quite overwhelmed may need additional services, both for their own good and for the good of their children. To the degree possible, clinicians should thus seek to have at least one — preferably more — member of their staff who can coordinate for parents to receive additional services if they seem overwhelmed

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Wildeman: In light of these findings, future research should consider maltreatment one of the central components shaping not only child health, but also racial/ethnic inequalities in child health. So while previous research has focused on a whole host of other factors that shape child health and health disparities, future research should also consider the possibility that child maltreatment may play a central role as well.


Last Updated on November 3, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD