Prevalence of Child Maltreatment
Child maltreatment is a highly prevalent, significantly damaging national health issue. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 3.5 million children received a child protective services investigation due to maltreatment in 2016. Studies show that abused and neglected children are at least 25 percent more likely to experience issues including teen pregnancy, low academic achievement, drug use and mental health conditions. Child maltreatment is just one of many Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that can cause negative, lasting mental and physical effects on the well-being of children. We have a health emergency.
Negative Effects of Child Maltreatment
Child maltreatment produces significant negative effects that are costly for the individual, their families and society at large. The psychological effects of child maltreatment include primary symptoms of anxiety, depression, dissociation, attentional deficits and aggression (Kessler, Davis & Kendler, 1997; Springer, Sheridan, Kuo & Carnes, 2007). These symptoms interfere with children’s ability to learn and function well in school. Over time, children attempt to manage these symptoms through maladaptive behaviors, including acting out, substance abuse, oppositional behavior, eating problems and smoking (DHHS, 2003; Kelley, Thornberry & Smith, 1997).
Not only does maltreatment affect children throughout their youth, it also leads to significant health problems in adulthood. Children who were maltreated are more likely to develop obesity, addiction and serious physical illnesses and diseases including diabetes, certain cancers, liver disease and heart disease (Felitti et al., 1998; Springer et al., 2007).
In addition to the health conditions caused by child maltreatment, adults who have experienced maltreatment in their youth are more likely to get divorced, drop out of school, be unable to hold a job and become imprisoned (Zolotor et al., 1999).
Yet, the majority of these maltreated children do not develop symptoms immediately- they take time to develop. Children are able to hold on for months, or even years. It is these children, unidentified yet suffering, that our system is overlooking.
Financial Costs of Child Maltreatment
The collective financial cost to society for caring for maltreated children through social services, medical and mental health services, transportation costs and police and judicial costs, is staggering. Annual budgets for State Departments of Children and Families run into billions of dollars– and these figures don’t even include private mental health, hospital, judicial or police costs.
The Time Is Now
Child maltreatment is crippling our country’s ability to function. Child maltreatment not only leads to negative health effects, but it also negatively impacts our quality of life. Maltreatment does not only affect those who are maltreated and abused, but it also greatly affects our nation’s bottom line. We need to get to the root of trauma before it’s too late- for our children, adults and our nation as a whole.