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Prevent Child Abuse America Receives Cooperative Agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to Evaluate Policies on Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Nationwide

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State-by-state evaluation and analysis to help reduce child sexual abuse, an adverse childhood experience linked to life-long mental and physical health challenges

CHICAGO (October 4, 2022) – Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA America), the nation’s premier organization dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and neglect, announced today a two-year cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to evaluate state policies to prevent child sexual abuse (CSA) perpetrated by adults. 

Child sexual abuse – an adverse childhood experience (ACE) – is a major public health problem globally and in the United States. Research shows that one in four girls and one in 13 boys in the U.S. experience child sexual abuse.1 In 2019, about 47,000 children had a substantiated CSA child welfare case, though this is likely an underestimate of the problem.2 

Approximately 90 percent of CSA occurs within families or involves someone the child or family knows and trusts.3 A 2004 report by the U.S. Department of Education found that nearly 10 percent of school children experience sexual misconduct by teachers or other school personnel.4 These findings help explain the proliferation of school-based training programs for the prevention of CSA over the past several decades. 

“Strong state policies and programs are part of a successful public health approach to prevent child sexual abuse before it can occur,” explained Dr. Melissa Merrick, president and CEO of PCA America, and co-principal investigator on this project. “Through this cooperative agreement, which will aid in studying prevention policies, we can create model conditions for the well-being of children and families for generations to come.”

A 2021 report authored by PCA America and project collaborator, MassKids, catalogued policies aimed at the prevention of child sexual abuse in all 50 states. The report highlighted that while many states have child sexual abuse prevention laws on the books, they differ in how the policies are constructed. For example, 33 states and D.C. have a statute around providing child sexual abuse prevention education in school settings, yet only 14 require this training for all school employees and students.5

“There is a great deal of variability in how states approach child sexual abuse prevention policies and very little research evidence examining whether these policies have their intended effect of preventing sexual abuse,” said Dr. J. Bart Klika, PCA America Chief Research Officer and co-principal investigator. “By evaluating the effect of these policies, our work will provide decision makers with critical information to create safe environments for children.” 

Work over the first two years of this cooperative agreement will occur through a research-practice-policy partnership (RPPP) led by project collaborators PCA America, MassKids (Prevent Child Abuse Massachusetts), and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

“A research-practice-policy partnership brings together vested parties to inform the research process and to ensure that the findings have maximum utility for practice, policy, and the individuals most affected by such policies,” said Klika.

Jetta Bernier, executive director MassKids, will co-lead the RPPP, assist in reviewing state laws/policies, interview key state leaders, and help summarize research evidence. According to Bernier, “With an estimated 4.5 million American children reporting inappropriate sexual contact with an adult in their school, it is critical that we document through research which strategies hold the best promise for protecting children from sexual abuse.” 

Wade Fickler, director of NCSL’s Children and Families Program, will also co-lead the RPPP with Dr. Klika and Ms. Bernier. He will also oversee dissemination of the research findings on behalf of NCSL. Fickler says the project aligns with NCSL’s mission in that the findings from the study should help state legislators understand which policies have been effective at preventing child sexual abuse.

Project activities include cataloguing state child sexual abuse prevention statutes, summarizing the research evidence on the effectiveness of these laws, and analyzing whether state child sexual abuse prevention policies are reducing sexual abuse.


1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022, April). Preventing Child Sexual Abuse. Retrieved from:

2 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families,  Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2021). Child Maltreatment 2019. Available from

3 Finkelhor, D., & Shattuck, A. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes Against Children Research Center.

4 U.S. Department of Education, Office of the Under Secretary, Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature, Washington, D.C., 2004. Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature.

5 Enough Abuse Campaign & Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA America). (2021, June). A call to action for policymakers and advocates: Child sexual abuse prevention legislation in the states. Retrieved from:


About Prevent Child Abuse America

Prevent Child Abuse America is a leading champion for all children in the United States. Founded in 1972 and celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022, we are the nation’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect, working to actively prevent all forms of child abuse and neglect before they occur and helping children grow up to be productive, contributing members of their communities and society. Our success is founded on a nationwide network of state chapters and nearly 600 Healthy Families America home visiting sites, which directly provide parents and caregivers a wide variety of services and resources. Our comprehensive approach is informed by science—we translate and disseminate innovative research to promote proven solutions that our vast network then puts into action. And we raise public awareness and advocate for family friendly policies at the national, state, and local levels to support transformative programs and promote the conditions and contexts that help children, families, and communities across the country thrive.

About National Conference of State Legislatures
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is a bipartisan membership organization serving our nation’s state legislators and legislative staff. Since 1975, NCSL has been working to improve the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures, foster interstate communication and cooperation, and ensure states a strong, cohesive voice in the federal system. NCSL’s members include all legislators and legislative staff from all U.S. states, commonwealths, territories, and the District of Columbia. NCSL provides informational resources, technical assistance, learning opportunities and professional development experiences for its members. Its Children and Families Program addresses an array of issues, including child welfare and the prevention of child maltreatment, family economic security, housing and homelessness, child support and family law, and early care and education.

About Massachusetts Citizens for Children

Massachusetts Citizens for Children (MassKids) is the oldest state-based child advocacy organization in the country. Their mission is to improve the lives of the state’s most vulnerable children and youth through advocacy by concerned citizens. Established in the mid-1970s, MassKids is committed to preventing the abuse and neglect of the state’s children and since 1986 the organization has served as the Massachusetts Chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America. MassKids currently works to prevent child abuse through the Enough Abuse Campaign, a multi-state initiative working educates/mobilizes parents, professionals and communities to take action, supports prevention policies in schools and youth organizations, and advocates for prevention legislation to ensure justice for survivors, accountability for abusers and the prevention of future cases of child sexual abuse. MassKids serves on the Steering Committee of the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation and the National Task Force on Educator Sexual Misconduct. and

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