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April 2012Vol. 13, No. 3Economic Burden of Child Maltreatment

The lifetime cost of child maltreatment cases and related fatalities confirmed in 1 year totals $124 billion, according to a new study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors generated the findings by combining estimates of child maltreatment survivors' lifetime health and mental health care costs, lost productivity, child welfare services, special education, and criminal justice services, as well as services and lost productivity for children who died as a result of maltreatment. The study was based on 2008 data, during which 579,000 new child maltreatment victims were identified and 1,740 children died from maltreatment.

To underscore the significance of child maltreatment's impact on the U.S. economy, the authors compared costs per case with two common public health issues:

  • Stroke: $159,000
  • Type 2 diabetes: $181,000 to $253,000
  • Child maltreatment: $210,000
  • Child maltreatment fatality: More than $1.2 million

The authors described several reasons why the results likely underestimate the total cost of child maltreatment:

  1. Official statistics include only children who come to the attention of State child welfare systems, so the total impact of child maltreatment is likely much larger.
  2. Costs that are more difficult to estimate were not included, such as the impact of psychological abuse, reduced life expectancy and quality of life, and the intergenerational cycle of abuse.
  3. Differences due to the severity of child maltreatment could not be factored into the estimate.

To reduce the high cost of child maltreatment and maltreatment-related fatalities, the authors recommended that child welfare professionals and policymakers redouble efforts to fund and implement evidence-based prevention services and intervention services to reduce the impact when it occurs.

"The Economic Burden of Child Maltreatment in the United States and Implications for Prevention," by X. Fang, D. S. Brown, C. S. Florence, and J. A. Mercy (in press), was published in Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal, and is available on the ScienceDirect website: