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A macro-level understanding of levels and trends in the abuse and homicide of children, 1997-2020

NCJ Number
Child Abuse & Neglect Volume: 137 Dated: 2023
Maribeth L. Rezey
Date Published

This article presents an empirical assessment of competing hypotheses for explaining rates of reported child abuse and homicide from 1997 to 2020, the findings of which could impact future policies set by state child protective service agencies.


Data suggest that U.S. rates of violence declined beginning in the 1990s. However, crime trend studies have not entirely agreed on reasons for the decline, and few have empirically assessed the decline in violence against children more specifically. This article presents a study that investigated several competing hypotheses for explaining declines in reported child physical abuse, sexual abuse, and homicide. Attention was given to the importance of these explanatory factors for explaining both rates (levels) and year-over-year differences (trends) in these child outcomes. Population-level state-panel data for the years 1997 through 2020 were used, totaling 1,176 state-years. Linear panel-data models were used to examine the relationship between explanatory factors and levels and trends in rates of reported child abuse and child homicide. As operationalized in this study, few of the hypotheses proposed for explaining declines in child victimization were associated with levels or trends in reported child abuse. The only explanatory factor significantly associated with lower rates of reported child physical abuse was the rate of alternative response. Year-over-year increases in lagged female incarceration rates were associated with year-over-year declines in rates of reported physical abuse. Several explanatory measures were associated with levels or trends in child homicide, while only methylphenidate distribution was associated with levels of reported child sexual abuse. The authors state that policymakers should be aware of the importance of alternative response rates on rates of reported child physical abuse and recognize that macro-level declines in reported child victimization may only be possible if macro-level conditions are also addressed. Publisher Abstract Provided