New study shows child abuse, neglect in CA is 3x higher than reported


By Daniel Heimpel

A reckoning is coming in child protection.

On December 2, the new and increasingly influential Children’s Data Network partnered with the California Child Welfare Indicators Project to release a slew of studies showing that one in seven of all California babies born in 2006 and 2007 had been reported for abuse or neglect by age five.

This is nearly three times annual rates of child abuse reports in California.

The new research, which was funded by First 5 LA, linked birth records for the more than one million babies born in California in 2006 and 2007 to Child Protective Services records through their fifth birthdays.

The findings build on a small but growing body of data linkage research that is clearly showing that the child maltreatment threat is more prevalent than we as a culture ever knew before. This begs an important question: to what degree are public systems oriented to meet that threat?

“Much of what we know—or think we know—about risk factors for child abuse and neglect is based on point-in-time (cross-sectional) and retrospective studies of children reported for maltreatment,” the Children’s Data Network website reads. “These estimates give the impression that only a small share of children are maltreated or placed in foster care, whereas cumulative estimates demonstrate the true severity of the risks and the resulting public health burden.”

Beyond the prevalence of reported abuse, the rate at which children were confirmed victims of abuse or neglect in the study was higher than most counts. By age five, 5.1 percent of California babies born in 2006 and 2007 had substantiated reports of abuse and neglect. That is 55,881 babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

This is five times the rate reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has consistently reported that about one in 100 children will be confirmed victims of abuse or neglect in a given year.

The Data Network’s latest findings come on the heels of a blockbuster study released in June. Yale University researcher Christopher Wildeman and colleagues — including Emily Putnam-Hornstein, the director of the Data Network — published results after sifting through 5.6 million child abuse records housed in the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.

By age 18, the researchers found, one in eight American children will have the experience of a social worker entering their home and determining that they were abused or neglected.

This all points to a pressing question in the world of child protection.

Cumulative rates of reported and substantiated child abuse and neglect are as much as eight times the annual rates reported by venerable, trustworthy state and national data systems.

This makes it hard to credibly assume that our current child protection system is built to meet the challenge it faces. So how would one go about building a child protection system that could? How would one orient all the public systems that touch children to better address child maltreatment?

These are questions The Chronicle of Social Change  and ACEsTooHigh will explore in more depth. But for now, thanks to the Children’s Data Network, we have an ever-clarifying picture of the scope of child maltreatment.

Fully understanding the problem is an important step towards finding the solution.

Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change.


  1. What good is calling anyone, even the police, when a little known law in California allows convicted abusive caregivers to hide criminal past from employers. This is possible because Ca Penal Code 1203.4 doesn’t include crimes against elderly and disabled as crimes that can’t be “expunged” or hidden from public. Bottom line: Crimes committed under Penal Code 368 must be included as crimes that can’t be hidden in order to protect the public from predators who prey on our most vulnerable citizens. The system serving disabled is ripe and unregulated for predators. Hundreds are in the system now, hiding their past crimes. Undetected. Causing harm. Killing. All because nobody knows when they hire them if their record of abusing the elderly were expunged thanks to this crazy law not including Penal Code 368 as a crime that absolutely can’t be hidden from background checks.


  2. I have a big problem with what cps calls substantiate. I was accused of medical neglect when I took my child to the hospital when he became ill at first they thought it was pneumonia and cps took him from me. Only later to find out my son has cystic fibrosis (which displays pneumonia like symptoms) yet cps refuses to change their reports from substantiated too oops their bad!
    Then my daughter’s doctor had written in her charts that my daughter was failure to thrive… one would assume an unfeed lethargic child but in reality it was because she was short and skinny for her age. (Imagine that I’m only five foot)
    After seeing specialists they reassured me that she was doing fine for her bone size. But I had to fight for a year with cps over this and its still on my record as substantiated. So when they claim abuse is substantiated I always raise an eyebrow because I know their reports are riddle with false information.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this post. As a professional working with survivors of childhood physical, sexual and emotional abuse, I know that far more people experience abuse which is never reported than the number of annual reports to CPS indicate. As it is, the child welfare system is overburdened, but a new conceptualization of the resources needed to address the true needs of children and families could make a huge difference!


  4. To help stop the cycle we need to start some program re: the sacredness of life and parenting — a program that is started when children are very young. And it must be in schools as they are it getting it at home. Parenting/self parenting Resiliency Self-care – healthy ways to discharge excess negative/ excess energy Self-regulation Mindfulness Boundaries Social responsibility.

    All those awesome tools with the NURTURED TEACHERS Behind it as the teachers need to practice self care and resiliency to teach it.

    Same goes for teachers and police officers….?


  5. Excellent journalism as always!!!! For my clarification and other readers, I would like to ask how there is a difference between the 1/100 confirmed cases per year reported by the state and the 5.1 percent of cases confirmed by age 5 years. These numbers seem to me to be the same essentially? Thank you!!!


    • I would also like to know do any of these reports include emotional abuse and not just the big three- child sexual and physical abuse and child neglect? I suspect the answer is no – as I know what I report ….. which is what one can see ….emotional abuse is not as easily seen and when you do see it in the office or elsewhere and report it as I have done previously…. It is screened out as CPS cannot really easily confirm this form of abuse —– but do any of these cases include verbal/emotional abuse which per the work of Martin Teicher is a very potent form of child maltreatment that we are probably not capturing because it would be so difficult to document but that we should, I believe, at least be educating professionals involved in the care of children re. the potency of this form of abuse so they all know that the adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” is simply NOT true!!!! Thanks


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