The High Cost of Child Abuse to Society – Prevention Pays

Overview of the Problem
Direct Costs

Direct costs are those incurred as a direct result of child abuse and neglect. Included in these figures are the cost of the child welfare system, judicial and law enforcement, health and mental health systems. These costs can include expenses associated with hospitalization and medical services provided to treat injuries resulting from abuse. They would also cover child protective service investigations, police investigations, foster care and other out-of-home placements. They can also include any family preservation, rehabilitation or treatment programs.

It is virtually impossible to calculate, on a national level, an accurate total of direct expenditures since so many costs are blended into other categories or are simply not tracked as abuse and neglect related expenses. However, the government expenditures for child welfare programs do provide us with a benchmark for estimating the annual direct cost for abuse and neglect. In 2010, federal expenditures to states for major child welfare programs exceeded 4.5 billion dollars. That total excludes Medicaid dollars, which are an important source of funding for treatment. (CWLA, 2011) It is also important to note here that federal funding accounts for only 42% of most state child welfare dollars. The remaining 58% is the responsibility of the state and local government.

Indirect Costs
These costs reflect the long term economic consequences of child maltreatment in such areas as education, mental health, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, welfare dependency, domestic violence, homelessness, juvenile delinquency and adult criminality. The indirect costs can also be present in loss of productivity, incarceration, long-term injury or unemployment or death. These figures are much more difficult to ascertain since many are based on assumptions or are extrapolated from research.

To date, very few longitudinal studies have been done to assess the cost effectiveness of prevention. For the most part, local and state figures reflecting the cost of intervention and treatment have been compared to the costs of prevention efforts. As expected, prevention has been widely accepted as the most cost effective.
Studies compare the costs of preventative family support services with the savings generated from the positive outcomes of prevention programs and/or the direct and indirect costs of not preventing child maltreatment. Many of the prevention programs in effect today also address other areas of concern which are directly related to child maltreatment. For example, preventable health conditions (i.e. low birth weight, infant mortality, newborn addictions) or social isolation, lack of parenting skills or inappropriate child rearing behaviors can also be included as areas which benefit from effective prevention education.
With effective programming, there is hope that we can seriously limit the trauma suffered by our children and, at the same time, lessen the financial strain on the nation’s economy.

A recent summary from the Center of Disease Control on the cost of child maltreatment.

CDC: “Child Abuse, Neglect Cost United States Billions”

                                                                                                                      By: Daryl Nelson, published: February 1, 2012


Child abuse and neglect doesn’t only have a huge social impact, according to a new report from the centers for Disease Control it has is a huge financial burden.

The report released Wednesday found that just one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment – meaning physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse and neglect- costs about $124 billion.

They study gathered data from 1,740 fatal and 579,000 non-fatal child abuse and neglect cases for a 12-month period.  The lifetime cost for each victim of child maltreatment who lived was $210,012, which compares to other costly health ailments, such as stroke with a lifetime cost per individual of approximately $159,846 or type 2 diabetes, which runs between $181,000 and $253,000.

The costs associated with death from child abuse are even higher.

“No child should ever be the victim of abuse or neglect, nor do they have to be.  The human and financial costs can be prevented through prevention of child maltreatment,” said Dr. Linda Degutis, Director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, in a statement.

Not only does child abuse affect the child in profound ways, it also impacts on survivors, including poorer health, social and emotional difficulties, and lowered economic productivity.

CDC study found these harsh effects over a survivor’s lifetime, also impacts costs on the nation’s health care, education, welfare and criminal justice systems.

Some of the financial results are as follows:

The estimated average lifetime cost per victim of nonfatal child maltreatment includes:

  • $32,648 in childhood health care cost
  • $10,530 in adult medical costs
  • $144,360 in productivity losses
  • $7,728 in child welfare costs
  • $6,747 in criminal justice costs
  • $7,999 in special education costs


The estimated average lifetime cost per death includes:

  • $14,100 in medical costs
  • $1,258,800 in productivity losses


Researchers also learned that child maltreatment is also related to a number of emotional, physical, and behavioral problems. Some of the associated emotional and behavioral problems are depression, anxiety, suicide, initiate partner violence, substance abuse, antisocial behavior, among other issues.

“Federal, state, and local public health agencies as well as policymakers must advance the awareness of the lifetime economic impact of child maltreatment and take immediate action with the same momentum and intensity dedicated to other high profile public health problems, in order to save lives, protect the public’s health, and same money,” said Dr. Degutis.

NJ CAP is a RTC of the International Center for Assault Prevention. It partners with state, national and worldwide prevention advocates.