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It has often been said that schools are the safest place for kids and that the most dangerous place for kids is inside their own homes. The most recent data on child victims underscores this.

In fiscal year 2007 (the latest year available) there were an estimated 3.2 million referrals to Child Protective Services agencies alleging child abuse and neglect, involving about 5.8 million children (more than double the number — 2 million — in 1986). About one-fourth of these cases were substantiated. During that year an estimated 1,760 children died due to child abuse or neglect; more than ¾ were under 4 years of age. Just over half (51.5%) of the victims were girls. About half (46%) were White, while just over one-fifth (21.7%) were African-American and another one-fifth (20.8%) were Hispanic. 

Nearly 39 percent (38.7%) of victims were maltreated by their mother acting alone; almost one-fifth (17.9%) were victimized by their father acting alone; just under 17 percent (16.8%) were victimized by both parents. The most common type was neglect (59%), while about 11% were physically abused, 8% were sexually abused, 4.2% were psychologically maltreated, and the rest were victims of multiple maltreatments. Of those who were sexually abused, 35% were between 12 and 15 years old, while about 24% were in the age group 8−−11 years, and 23% were in the age group 4−−7 years.

Although the most recent report does not consider family income, 1996 date reveal a strong correlation between maltreatment and family income: maltreatment in families with incomes below $15,000 was double the rate in other families. Also, maltreatment was twice as great within single-parent families. This leads to the obvious conclusion that poverty is a strong factor. 

Quite often the agencies in charge of responding to this issue — usually called Children’s Protective Services or something similar — are under-funded, under-paid and often guilty of ignoring children’s needs. A recent series of articles appearing in the Las Vegas Sun illustrates this problem.

The connection between child abuse and neglect and future behavioral problems has been clearly established. There are at least six long-term effects: Emotional trauma results in low self-esteem, guilt, anxiety, depression, and such physical problems as sleep disturbances, significant weight gain or loss, numerous illnesses, poor social relationships, and overall difficulties functioning in society; Running away is a two-word outcome, and the important word is away” – not running to something but running away from what is often an unbearable situation (many who are placed in foster homes or some other alternative living arrangements continue to run, since they often experience further abuse and neglect). Disruptive and truant behavior in school is a perfectly understandable outcome – children spend a huge amount of their lives in school and it is a truism that problems at home spill over into the schools; the problems these children experience at school run the gamut from language deficiencies to learning problems to conflict with peers and teachers and the school itself (e.g., fights, vandalism, arson), not to mention poor academic performance and dropping out. Drug and alcohol abuse are often efforts to block the pain; this is especially common among sexual abuse victims. Sexual behavior involves promiscuity, prostitution, and early pregnancy; the connection between girls’ sexual abuse and later prostitution has been extensively documented. Violence and abuse is a frequent pattern for those who have been abused themselves; they often abuse others, sometime with severe violence, as in the case where children kill their parents; one important gender difference is that whereas boy victims generally take out their anger on others in the form of violence, girl victims tend to engage in self-destructive behavior; it should go without saying that sparing the rod spoils the child” is one of the greatest myths ever, as study after study show the clear connection between corporal punishment and children’s deviance. Finally, studies have shown that those who have experienced abuse are far more likely to end up somewhere in the juvenile justice system.

Politicians pay a great deal of attention to the issue of child victims — when they are running for office. Once in office the issue is placed on the back burner. Perhaps it is because most of the victims are the children of the poor and/​or racial minorities. Apparently they don’t count for much — they are largely invisible, isolated from view (as are all people in poverty), they don’t vote and have little power base. Most administrations have been quiet on this issue. The Obama administration has one small segment on their website devoted to children’s issues and this is under a heading called Child Advocacy, which is found under the more general heading of additional issues.”