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The Recession and Child Maltreatment

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November 17, 2010

By Katherine Sell, MSSP, Sarah Zlotnik, MSW, MSPH, Kathleen Noonan, JD and David Rubin, MD, MSCE

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Recent data from child welfare sources suggest that maltreatment rates continue to fall despite the recession. However, these data are current only as of 2008, and the trends they show may be complicated by several factors, including the downsizing of some child welfare systems due to state fiscal constraints. Worrisome are noticeable spikes in neglect following both the 1990-1991 and 2001 recessions, which are consistent with findings that neglect continues to rise even as the economy begins to recover. Also concerning are recent reports of increasing cases of serious physical abuse being detected at children’s hospitals around the country and recent data tying rising unemployment to rising rates of reported maltreatment.

Although the link between recessions and child abuse is not clear, what is known is that as states struggle to balance budgets and make difficult funding decisions, many have cut child welfare programs. As we navigate the current economic downturn, it is critical that we continue to invest in our existing child welfare system and maintain social service programs to support families and better care for our most vulnerable children.

Related Resources:
Read First Focus’s companion policy brief on Child Maltreatment, which considers the role of public programs in the process of economic recovery and provides recommendations for improving the provision of services to vulnerable children and families as we bounce back from the most recent recession.

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