Child-abuse Reports Up 31% in Five Years, Studies Find

By Millicent Lawton — April 24, 1991 2 min read

Washington--Reports of child abuse nationwide were 31 percent higher in 1990 than in 1985, but more parents say they avoid abusive discipline with their children, a pair of studies released last week shows.

In 1990, state child-protection agencies received more than 2.5 milion reports of physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and emotional maltreatment--589,000 more than they had five years earlier, according to an annual survey conducted by the National Committee for the Prevention of Child abuse and released here last week.

Between 1989 and 1990, reports of abuse increased about 4 percent nationally, the report said.

The 1,211 deaths from child abuse reported last year represented a 38 percent increase over 1985, the report showed. Between 1989 and 1990, the death rate grew 1 percent, reflecting a leveling off of the trend over the last three years.

The growing number of reports of child abuse can be attributed both to a real increase in the rate of maltreatment and to more accurate reporting, the study said.

Greater public awareness contributed to increased reporting, some state officials told surveyors.

In states that experienced an increase in reported incidents, 55 percent of the officials polled identified substance abuse as one of the primary causes of the rise in abuse, the study revealed.

Economic stress, poverty, and unemployment were also cited as contributing factors.

For the 22 states that keep track of where child abuse occurs, fewer than 5 percent of the cases involved abuse outside the home, the study showed. “These are parents and caretakers mistreating children,” Deborah Daro, the NCPCA’s research director, told reporters at a press conference detailing the study’s results. Fewer than 1 percent of cases involve day-care or foster-care settings, she said. 8

Meanwhile, a separate annual public-opinion survey conducted for the association showed that parenting practices seem to be changing to help prevent abuse.

Of the parents interviewed, 56 percent reported never insulting or swearing at their children in the past year as a means of discipline, and 48 percent reported never spanking their children in the past year. Those figures represent, respectively, an 11 percent and a 12 percent improvement over 1988 data.

At a Congressional hearing last week following the studies’ release, Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, pledged a three- fold funding increase in his bill reauthorizing the Child abuse Prevention and Treatment act.&

Senator Dodd, who chairs the Sen ate Subcommittee on Children, Families, Drugs, and alcoholism,said the bill makes available 150 million for state grants for abuse- prevention programs and 50 million for community-based programs.

A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 1991 edition of Education Week as Child-abuse Reports Up 31% in Five Years, Studies Find