Child Abuse and Neglect
One of the most important measures of a government is how it cares for its children. Child abuse and neglect occur in every segment of society and are often the result of parents who were themselves abused or who do not have the resources to cope with difficult situations. Virginia emphasizes parental outreach and education as well as protection of abused children. The Commonwealth's approach has resulted in an abuse rate that is substantially lower than the national average.
Why is This Important?
In Virginia, a child is abused or neglected every 75 minutes, and every 14 days a child dies from such mistreatment. The immediate impact of abuse or neglect on a child is tragic, but so, too, are the long-term consequences -- affecting children, their communities, and the Commonwealth as a whole. Child abuse is often hidden, may occur over time, and is usually preventable.
How is Virginia Doing?
Virginia has a relatively low child maltreatment rate, ranking 4th lowest in the United States for substantiated cases of abuse. Nationally, the child maltreatment rate was 10.0 substantiated cases per 1,000 children in 2010. Virginia's rate was much lower, at 3.6 cases per 1,000 children for the same year. Pennsylvania's rate of 1.3 was the lowest in the nation.
Compared to its peer states, Virginia's rate in 2010 was lower than that of Maryland (10.3), North Carolina (10.5), and Tennessee (6.1). However, it is difficult to compare child maltreatment statistics across states because there is great variation in state laws, definitions, standards of evidence, and record keeping. It is estimated that up to 60% of child fatalities are incorrectly reported as accidents or other incidents, rather than as abuse.
Data from the Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS) shows that in 2010, 48,915 Virginia children were reported as possible victims of abuse and neglect. 6,234 of these were founded reports, meaning that a review of the facts gathered during an investigation met the standard of evidence required in Virginia. Thirty-one percent of the children experiencing maltreatment were under the age of 4, and 73 percent were under the age of 12. The Northern region had the lowest rate of child maltreatment at 2.1 per 1,000 children in 2010. The Southwest and West Central regions had the highest rates, with 10.5 and 6.4 substantiated cases per 1,000 children, respectively. The average Virginia rate was 3.9 per 1,000 children.
What Influences Child Abuse and Neglect?
Child abuse and neglect are not confined to any particular socioeconomic class, race or ethnicity, or religion. Children younger than 4 are at the greatest risk of severe injury or death. There are a number of situations that place children at particular risk for being abused or neglected, including:
- Parents who were themselves abused as children
- Teenage parents
- Parental or family substance abuse
- Parental depression, stress, or other mental health problems
- Family violence, such as intimate partner violence
- Unemployment and poverty
- Community violence
- Family isolation
- Parents who lack knowledge of child development and children's needs
- Lack of caregiver support for dealing with children with disabilities or developmental delays
What is the State's Role?
The Child Protective Services (CPS) Unit at the Virginia Department of Social Services:
- Operates a 24-hour child abuse and neglect hotline
- Administers grant monies to prevent and treat child abuse
- Develops statewide public awareness and education programs
- Maintains a database of offenders and victims of child abuse and neglect
Increasing awareness and public education have been shown to increase the percentage of cases reported.
Local social services departments are responsible for:
- Incoming reports of abuse and neglect
- Conducting investigations or family assessments for valid CPS reports
- Providing services that enhance child safety and prevent further abuse
State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.
Data and Definitions
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Administration for Children & Families,
(updated annually in May)
Note: It is important to note that comparing rates with other states must be done with extreme caution, as statistics often reflect definitions and court practices that differ from state to state.
of Social Services,
(updated annually in October)
Note: Alleged incidents of child maltreatment in Virginia may be referred for investigation or family assessment.
- Child Welfare
- Guterman, N.B., Stopping Child Maltreatment Before It Starts: Emerging Horizons in Early Home Visitation Services. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2001.
- "The Long-Term Sequelae of Child and Adolescent Abuse: A Longitudinal Community Study," Child Abuse and Neglect, Col. 20. No. 8, pp. 709-723, 1996.
- "In the Wake of Childhood Maltreatment," Juvenile Justice Bulletin, August 1997
- "The Cycle of Violence Revisited," Research Preview, National Institute of Justice, February 1996.
- "Preschool Antecedents of Adolescent Assaultive Behavior: A Longitudinal Study," Herrenkohl, Roy C., Ph.D., Egolf, Brenda P., Kerrenkohl, Ellen C., Ph.D., America Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 67(3), July 1997.
- "The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study," American Journal of Preventive Medicine 1998; vol. 14 no. 4 pp. 245-258.
- "Estimated Annual Cost of Child Abuse and Neglect: April 2012" (pdf); Richard J. Gelles, Ph.D. and Staci Perlman, Ph.D., Prevent Child Abuse America, 2012
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.