Abuse and Neglect: Societal Consequences

This information was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway

Societal Consequences

While child abuse and neglect usually occur within the family, the impact does not end there. Society as a whole pays a price for child abuse and neglect, in terms of both direct and indirect costs.

Direct costs

The lifetime cost of child maltreatment and related fatalities in 1 year totals $124 billion, according to a study funded by the CDC. Child maltreatment is more costly on an annual basis than the two leading health concerns, stroke and type 2 diabetes (Xiangming, Brown, Florence, & Mercy, 2012). On the other hand, programs that prevent maltreatment have shown to be cost effective. The U.S. Triple P System Trial, funded by the CDC, has a benefit/cost ratio of $47 in benefits to society for every $1 in program costs (Mercy, Saul, Turner, & McCarthy, 2011).

Indirect costs

Indirect costs represent the long-term economic consequences to society because of child abuse and neglect. These include costs associated with increased use of our health-care system, juvenile and adult criminal activity, mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Prevent Child Abuse America estimates that child abuse and neglect prevention strategies can save taxpayers $104 billion each year. According to the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy (2011), every $1 spent on home visiting yields a $5.70 return on investment in New York, including reduced confirmed reports of abuse, reduced family enrollment in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, decreased visits to emergency rooms, decreased arrest rates for mothers, and increased monthly earnings. One study found that all eight categories of adverse childhood experiences were associated with an increased likelihood of employment problems, financial problems, and absenteeism (Anda et al., 2004). The authors assert that these long-term costs—to the workforce and to society—are preventable.

Prevention Practice and Strategies

To break the cycle of maltreatment and reduce the likelihood of long-term consequences, communities across the country must continue to develop and implement strategies that prevent abuse or neglect from happening. While experts agree that the causes of child abuse and neglect are complex, it is possible to develop prevention initiatives that address known risk factors.

For more information, visit Information Gateway’s Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect web section:

Trauma-Informed Practice

While the priority is to prevent child abuse and neglect from occurring, it is equally important to respond to those children and adults who have experienced abuse and neglect. Over the past 30 years, researchers and practitioners have developed a better understanding of the effects of trauma. More has been done in the way of developing supports to address these effects, build resiliency, and, hopefully, prevent further trauma. Trauma-informed practice refers to the services and programs specifically designed to address and respond to the impact of traumatic stress. The importance of this approach has become especially evident in the child welfare system, as a majority of children and families involved with child welfare have experienced some form of past trauma. When human service systems recognize and respond to the impact of trauma and use this knowledge to adapt policies and practices, children, youth, and families benefit (Wilson, 2012).

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network strives to raise the standard of care and improve access to services for traumatized children, their families, and communities:

For more information on trauma-informed practice, visit Information Gateway’s Treatment and Trauma-Informed Care web section:

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Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.