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Child Abuse & Neglect Frequently Asked Question #11

Published: September 16, 2012
Child Abuse & Neglect


Who typically abuses children?


Most States define perpetrators of child abuse and neglect as parents and “other caretakers” (such as relatives, babysitters, and foster parents) who have harmed a child in their care. It is important to note that States define the term “caretaker” differently. Harm caused to a child by others (such as acquaintances or strangers) may not be considered “child abuse” but rather may be considered a criminal matter.

For the first time, the Child Maltreatment Reports are able to provide information on the perpetrators of child abuse and neglect in two different ways. First, the duplicate count of perpetrators counts a perpetrator each time he or she was associated with maltreating a child in one or more reports. Secondly, the unique count of perpetrators counts a perpetrator only once, regardless of the number of children the perpetrator is associated with maltreating or the number of records associated with a perpetrator. (See Chapter 5: Perpetrators for more information.)

According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System’s (NCANDS) most current report, Child Maltreatment 2010, an estimated 81percent (81.2) of duplicate perpetrators were parents of the victim, including birth parents, adoptive parents, and stepparents. Of the parents who were perpetrators, an estimated than 84 percent (84.2) were biological parents, about 4 percent were stepparents, and about 1 percent (0.7) were adoptive parents. Relatives, other than parents, accounted for an additional 6 (6.1) percent and an unmarried partner of a parent accounted for 4 percent (4.4) of perpetrators.  

In analyzing the victim data by relationship to the perpetrator, the 2010 data found that approximately one-half (53.6%) of child abuse and neglect perpetrators were women and slightly more than 45 percent (45.2%) were men. An estimated 84% (84.2) of unique perpetrators were between the ages of 20 and 49 years. (See Chapter 3: Children for more information.)

The full text of Child Maltreatment 2010 is available on the Children’s Bureau website at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm10/index.htm.     

Another report that may be of interest is the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4), 2004-2009, released in January 2010. The NIS is a congressionally mandated, periodic research effort to assess the incidence of child abuse and neglect in the United States. For more information on this study as well as links to related documents, please see http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/abuse_neglect/natl_incid/index.h....

For a comprehensive listing of resources on child abuse and neglect statistics, please visit the website of Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children’s Bureau, at http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/statistics/index.cfm. For research on characteristics of perpetrators, including those who commit certain types of abuse or neglect, see the web section, Perpetrators of Child Abuse & Neglect, at http://www.childwelfare.gov/can/perpetrators/.