Estimated Annual Cost of Child Abuse and Neglect

Healthy families mean healthy children, which in turn create thriving communities, a robust economy, and a strong nation. One way to ensure this outcome is by investing in child abuse prevention program. We know that investments in prevention and family support programs like Healthy Families America promote healthy child development and lower the number of children affected by abuse and neglect, and the financial cost to our nation in turn.

Child abuse and neglect affects over 1 million children every year, and, according to our report, written by Richard J. Gelles, PhD,  and Staci Perlman, PhD, child abuse and neglect costs our nation $220 million every day. In 2012, the year this report was updated, it was estimated that our nation paid a staggering $80 billion to address child abuse and neglect. Without investing in primary prevention and programs that promote healthy child development, this number will only continue to rise as time goes on.

Where do these costs come from? In the immediate term, they come from investigations into reports, from foster care and from medical and mental health treatment. When considering the long-term, child abuse costs stack up due to special education, juvenile and adult crime, chronic health problems, and other costs across the life span.

Incidence of Child Maltreatment

The calculation of cost estimates of child maltreatment is based on the most recent estimate of the incidence of child maltreatment in the United States. The Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sedlak et al., 2010) employed the same “harm standard” definition as was used in the Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996). An estimated 1,256,600 children were victims of child maltreatment in the study years 2005–2006.


Our initial calculation of the 2012 costs of child maltreatment used the same direct and indirect cost categories as those used by Wang and Holton (2007)d . The total direct and indirect cost of child maltreatment is $78,405,740,013. Adding in two new categories of costs— indirect costs of early intervention ($247,804,537) and emergency/transitional housing ($1,606,866,538) increases the total costs to $80,260,411,087.

In conclusion, the decline in the number of recognized and reported victims of child abuse and neglect by nearly 300,000 children means that, even after accounting for inflation, there is a lower overall cost of child abuse and neglect. As noted earlier, while we cannot compare the current calculations to earlier estimates, one validity check of our cost estimate is the fact that as child abuse and neglect numbers declined in the last decade, so did the incidence of juvenile delinquency and adult crime. Thus, we believe our estimate of the decrease in the indirect cost of child abuse and neglect is accurate.

Child abuse and neglect, even with the decline in number of victims, still exacts a brutal and costly toll on the victims. The cost to society, while apparently lower than a decade ago, is still significant. Only a reduction in the occurrence of child maltreatment abates the cost to our children and our nation. Child abuse and neglect affect us all. Fortunately, child abuse and neglect are preventable.

We are grateful to the Macy’s Foundation for their generous funding to help make this report possible.


Related Resources

Research Reviews

The Economic Burden of Child Sexual Abuse

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