Legislative Analyst's Office, January 1996
Child Abuse and Neglect in California
- Definitions and Types of Child Abuse/Neglect
- What Happens When There Is a Report of Child Abuse/Neglect?
- Mandated Reporters Account for Over Half the Reports of Abuse/Neglect
- Who are the Victims and Perpetrators of Child Abuse/Neglect?
- Physical or Sexual Abuse Account for Half the Reports of Abuse/Neglect
- Reports of Abuse/Neglect Increased Significantly During the Late 1980s
- California Has the Highest Rate of Reported Abuse/Neglect Among the Ten Largest States
- Rate of Reported Abuse/Neglect Varies Among Counties
- Law Enforcement Involvement in Child Abuse Cases
- Most Common Stress Factors in Abusive Households
The abuse and neglect of children is a serious problem
in California as well as in the nation as a whole. In 1994, there
were over 664,000 reports of child abuse/neglect and about
90,000 children in foster care in California. Between 1987-88 and
1994-95, the number of children served by the Child
Welfare Services (CWS) system, after controlling for changes in
population, increased 27 percent.
This report presents a variety of information on the subject
of child abuse and neglect. It is designed to serve both as a
reference document and as a vehicle for stimulating further discussion
and policy development on these issues.
Chapter 1 defines child abuse and neglect and describes
the child welfare services system. In Chapter 2, we present trends
and characteristics regarding child abuse and neglect in
California. Chapter 3 provides information on the state's CWS
Program. Chapter 4 displays cost data related to child abuse and
neglect. Chapter 5 provides data to assess the CWS system. Finally,
in Chapter 6 we provide an assessment of the CWS Program
and discuss policy implications suggested by the information
provided in the preceding chapters.
Definitions and Types of Child Abuse/Neglect
State law defines child abuse as (1) physical injury
inflicted on a child by another person, (2) sexual abuse, or (3)
emotional abuse. Child neglect is defined as negligent treatment
which threatens the child's health or welfare. The different types of
child abuse/neglect can be categorized as follows:
- Sexual abuse is the victimization of a child by sexual activities,
including molestation, indecent exposure, fondling, rape, and incest.
- Physical abuse is bodily injury inflicted by other than accidental
means on a child, including willful cruelty, unjustifiable punishment, or
- Emotional abuse is nonphysical mistreatment, resulting in
disturbed behavior by the child, such as severe withdrawal or
hyperactivity. Emotional abuse includes willfully causing any child to suffer,
inflicting mental suffering, or endangering a child's emotional
- General neglect is the negligent failure of a parent/guardian or
caretaker to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or supervision
where no physical injury to the child has occurred.
- Severe neglect refers to those situations of neglect where the
child's health is endangered, including severe malnutrition.
- Exploitation means forcing or coercing a child into performing
activities that are beyond the child's capabilities or which are illegal
or degrading, including sexual exploitation.
What Happens When There Is a Report of Child Abuse/Neglect?
Once a report of child abuse/neglect has been made, there
are various steps that are taken as part of the resolution
process. These steps generally involve California's CWS system and
the juvenile dependency process.
Child Welfare Services System
The CWS system is run by the county welfare
departments, which investigate allegations of child abuse/neglect and
provide case management and support services to the children and
their families. The state's CWS Program consists of four main
- Emergency Response is the initial intake point for the program.
Social workers are required to respond to reports of child
abuse/neglect and determine whether an in-person investigation is necessary.
- Family Maintenance provides support services to prevent
abuse/neglect while the child remains in his or her home. Generally,
these services include counseling, parent training, respite care, and
temporary in-home care.
- Family Reunification provides support services to the family
while the child is in temporary foster care. Typically, these services
include counseling, emergency shelter care, parent training, and
teaching homemaking skills.
- Permanent Placement provides management and placement
services to children in foster care who cannot be returned to their families.
Juvenile Dependency Process
Children who are served by the CWS system generally
come under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, which may decide
that the child should be made a dependent of the court. The
dependency process involves a series of hearings and case
reviews and may result in several outcomes such as foster care
placement or adoption. County welfare departments may offer services
to children and their families without involving the juvenile
dependency process when there is a voluntary agreement for
such services between the family and the county welfare department.
The chart on the following pages shows the flow of a report
of child abuse/neglect through the child welfare system.
What Happens When There Is A Report of Child Abuse/Neglect?
- Reports of child abuse/neglect are received by county
welfare departments through the Emergency Response
component of the CWS Program. In some cases, the county
social worker may determine that the child should be placed in
temporary foster care.
- A dependency petition is filed for each Emergency
Response case that is not closed immediately, requesting that the
child be declared a dependent of the court.
- A detention hearing is held to approve the temporary
removal of the child from his or her home.
- At the jurisdictional hearing, the court determines
whether or not abuse/neglect has occurred as stated in the petition.
- If abuse/neglect was found, a dispositional hearing is conducted to determine a remedygenerally, the court may
order family maintenance or family
- Review hearings are held, generally every six months, to
review family maintenance and family reunification efforts.
- If family reunification efforts fail, a permanency planning hearing is held to determine the long-term plan for the
child. The plan must include one of the following goals:
long-term foster care placement, guardianship, or adoption.
Trends and Characteristics of Child Abuse
And Neglect in California
The state collects information regarding the incidence of
child abuse/neglect through reports made by county welfare
departments. It is difficult, however, to measure the actual incidence
of child abuse/neglect for several reasons. First, the definitions
and guidelines used for determining child abuse/neglect are
not precise. Second, some people may be reluctant to report
child abuse or neglect because they do not want to become
involved. Finally, it may be difficult for government agencies to
substantiate a report, even though abuse or neglect has occurred.
In California, the number of child abuse/neglect reports
per 1,000 children increased 76 percent between 1985 and 1994.
While this suggests that child abuse/neglect has increased
significantly, data are not available on the number of reports that
were actually substantiated (that is, where it was determined that
abuse or neglect had occurred).
Mandated Reporters Account for Over Half The Reports of Abuse/Neglect
- The California Child Abuse Reporting Law requires certain
professionals to report known or suspected child abuse. Legally
mandated reporters include certain employees of schools (such as teachers)
or day care facilities, health practitioners (physicianurses,
clinical social workers), child protective agencies (county welfare,
probation, police departments), and commercial film and photographic print
- Based on data from January 1993, 54 percent of the reports
came from legally mandated reporters. The single largest source of all
reports -- about one-fifth of the total -- were made by schools.
Who are the Victims and Perpetrators Of Child Abuse/Neglect?
Physical or Sexual Abuse Account for Half the Reports of Abuse/Neglect
- In 1994, about half of the reports of abuse/neglect were due to
physical abuse (32 percent) or sexual abuse (17 percent).
- About one-third of the reports were due to general neglect, such
as regularly leaving a young child in the home without supervision.
- This distribution of the types of reported abuse/neglect has
remained generally constant over the last ten years.
Reports of Abuse/Neglect Increased Significantly During the Late 1980s
- Between 1985 and 1989, the number of reports of abuse/neglect
increased 70 percent, from 42 to 71 per 1,000 children. Since
1989, however, the rate has increased more slowly.
- The sharp increase in the late 1980s may have been partly due to
an increase in the number of children born with drug-exposure
problems. These cases were generally reported to CWS until 1990,
when legislation was enacted which restricted conditions for reporting.
The increase in reporting rates over this entire period is due to: (1)
increased incidents of child abuse/neglect as a result of increased
economic pressures on families, (2) increased use of illegal
drugs, and (3) greater public awareness of child abuse/neglect.
- In total, there were about 296,000 reports of child abuse/neglect
in 1985, compared to about 664,000 in 1994. This represents a
124 percent increase over the period, or an average annual rate
of almost 10 percent.
California Has the Highest Rate of Reported
Abuse/Neglect Among the Ten Largest States
- In 1993, California had the highest rate of reported
abuse/neglect among the ten largest states76 per 1,000 children.
- The variation among the states is partly due to differences in
reporting laws, data collection systems, and definitions of child
abuse/neglect. For example, Pennsylvania does not include "general neglect" in its definition of child abuse/neglect.
Rate of Reported Abuse/Neglect Varies Among Counties
- Of the ten largest counties, San Diego CouËÏXÔnty had the highest rate
of reported abuse/neglect in 199450 percent higher than the
statewide average. (In 1991, the county's reporting rate was almost
90 percent higher than the statewide average.)
- Riverside County had the lowest reporting rate in 1994, which was
40 percent below the statewide average.
- Some variation may be due to differences in demographics (for
example, incidence of poverty) or differences in methods of data
collection; however, these two factors do not appear to explain all of
Law Enforcement Involvement In Child Abuse Cases
Most Common Stress Factors In Abusive Households
- Research suggests that risk factors for child abuse/neglect
include poverty, unemployment, alcohol/drug abuse, history of child
abuse/neglect or violence in the family, limited support systems (such
as family and friends), low self-esteem, and poor health of parent.
- Based on a survey of CWS cases in January 1993, the most
common stress factors present in households experiencing child abuse
were the inability to cope with parenting (35 percent of the cases) and
disruption of family structure, such as divorce (33 percent).
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