Child Abuse is Costly

Maltreatment reports statistically predict higher healthcare costs in adulthood

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Abused children often have trouble with their mental and physical health in later years. Early interventions and solid treatment for abuse might be the best ways to help.

A recent study demonstrated the downhill slope kids can go down after experiencing abuse.

Prevention and intervention programs could cut mental and physical healthcare costs later in life.

"Talk to a therapist if you’ve experienced abuse in your life."

Melissa Jonson-Reid, PhD, childhood welfare expert and professor at George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, led colleagues in a study that investigated the later outcomes of chronic child abuse.

For the study, the researchers looked at 5,994 low income children from St. Louis, 3,521 of which reported child abuse. The children ranged from 1.5 to 11 years of age at baseline and were followed from 1993-94 until 2009.

The study used measures such as: “substance abuse, mental health treatment, brain injury, sexually transmitted disease, suicide attempts, and violent delinquency before the age 18 and child maltreatment perpetration, mental health treatment, or substance abuse in adulthood.”

Jonson-Reid said, “For every measure studied, a more chronic history of child maltreatment reports was powerfully predictive of worse outcomes. For most outcomes, having a single maltreatment report put children at a 20 percent to 50 percent higher risk than non-maltreated comparison children.”

The more a child experienced abuse, the greater the negative outcomes were later in their life. The results showed that  29.7 percent of children with no maltreatment had at least one negative outcome, 39.5 percent of children with one report of maltreatment had at least one negative outcome and 67.1 percent of children with four reports of maltreatment had at least one negative outcome.

Suicide attempts were high among the negative outcomes. Before the age of 18, kids with four reports of maltreatment had a 625 percent higher attempted suicide rate than kids with no reported maltreatment.

“In models of adult outcomes, children with four or more reports were about at least twice as likely to later abuse their own children and have contact with the mental health system, even when controlling for the negative outcomes during adolescence.”

Jonson-Reid suggested, “Successfully interrupting chronic child maltreatment may well reduce risk of a wide range of other costly child and adolescent health and behavioral problems.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that the yearly cost for abused children is at $242 billion.

“If the poor outcomes in adolescence can be dealt with effectively, then later adult outcomes may also be forestalled. Our findings could therefore be interpreted as supporting many current evidence-based interventions that seek to improve behavioral and social functioning among children and adolescents who have experienced trauma like abuse or neglect.”

This study was published in the journal Pediatrics, May 2012. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 25, 2012
Last Updated:
November 13, 2012