The social and economic costs of child abuse and neglect are difficult to calculate. Some costs are straightforward and directly related to maltreatment, such as hospital costs for medical treatment of injuries sustained as a result of physical abuse and foster care costs resulting from the removal of children when they cannot remain safely with their families. Other costs, less directly tied to the incidence of abuse, include lower academic achievement, adult criminality, and lifelong mental health problems.
Child maltreatment can cause excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain, known as toxic stress. Toxic stress can have lifelong, damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health. While children from all backgrounds deal with adverse experiences and toxic stress, children growing up in minority communities are often subject to more in comparison. Racism and discrimination have been also shown to contribute to toxic stress and affect the developing brain. Supportive, responsive relationships with adults early in life can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of toxic stress.
Review the resources below to learn more about social and economic costs, direct and indirect, of child maltreatment and toxic stress.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Response
University of Albany & Prevent Child Abuse America
Seeks to connect research data and its potential for real-world application to prevent adverse childhood experiences and their consequences through policy and program leadership, community development, and direct practice.
Cost of Child Abuse & Neglect
Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina
Discusses ways child abuse and neglect impact society through crime, juvenile justice costs, loss of worker productivity and more. The article references a 2018 CDC study, which estimates the total lifetime costs associated with one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment to be $428 billion.
The Economic Burden of Child Sexual Abuse in the United States
Letourneau, Brown, Fang, Hassan, & Mercy (2018)
Child Abuse & Neglect, 79
Offers an estimate of the economic impact of child sexual abuse in the United States and examines costs related to health care, child welfare, violence, crime, loss of productivity, special education, and suicide.
Economic Burden of Known Cases of Child Maltreatment From 2018 in Each State
Klika, Rosenzweig, & Merrick (2020)
Child and Adolescent Social Work, 37(3)
Provides State-level estimates of the economic cost of child maltreatment using data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System from 2018.
Equity in Action: Prioritizing and Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (2022)
Outlines the significance and importance of racial equity in the field of child welfare and highlights research identifying disparities with implications for the field.
A Guide to Toxic Stress
Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child
Presents a toolkit on toxic stress and explores how toxic stress derails healthy brain development, the causes of toxic stress, and how to prevent and address toxic stress.
How Adverse Childhood Experiences Cost $1.33 Trillion a Year
Explores the societal outcomes, economic costs, and health impact of adverse childhood experiences.
The Impact of Child Sexual Abuse
Darkness to Light
Presents a discussion on the larger impact of child sexual abuse including the economic impact, social impact, and health impact.
Toxic Stress and Children’s Outcomes
Morsy & Rothstein (2019)
Economic Policy Institute
Provides information on toxic stress in childhood and adult outcomes, focusing on the disproportionality faced by children of color and children growing up socially and economically disadvantaged homes.
Toxic Stress in Children: Impact Over a Lifetime
Nursing Made Incredibly Easy!, 17(2)
Explains the effect of toxic stress on the brain and negative outcomes associated with adverse childhood experiences and stress. The article also discusses resilience, prevention of toxic stress, and more.
Trends, Diagnoses, and Hospitalization Costs of Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States of America
Wojciak, Butcher, Conrad, Oral, Peek-Asa (2021)
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(14)
Examines child abuse and neglect hospitalizations and found the annual cost to be more than $116 million per year in the United States.