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Child Abuse: A Growing Public Health Concern

Child abuse has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control as a public health concern that causes significant medical and mental health consequences - many of which affect not just children, but also the adults they become.

  • Nearly six million children are reported for suspected child maltreatment each year in the United States.
  • An average of five children - most of them under the age of four - die every day from abuse or neglect.
  • Estimates indicate that 1 out of every 5 children in the U.S. will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

Sadly, studies show that most victims of sexual abuse do not disclose their mistreatment for at least a year. One-third of all victims never tell anyone about the abuse they have endured. Children who do disclose sexual abuse often are not believed, causing them to suffer both the effects of their abuse and the betrayal of the trust they once held for parents, caregivers, or other adults.

The deep, long-lasting scars of maltreatment inevitably change a child’s life trajectory. Victims of abuse are much more likely to develop self-destructive habits and lifestyles, early chronic illness, disability, and premature death. They are also more likely to pass their inflicted injuries on to the next generation of victims. The earlier abuse is identified, the greater chance children have to heal and avoid perpetuating this cycle of destructive behavior.

But there is much to be done. Many cases of abuse and neglect go undetected. When investigations do occur, they are often performed by overburdened caseworkers and law enforcement officers. Even the clinicians who step up to evaluate and treat victims of abuse often have insufficient expertise in child maltreatment and in dealing with the aftermath of traumatic stress.

As the region’s only academic medical center, Penn State Hershey is strategically positioned to help fulfill the University’s responsibility to improve the detection, treatment, and prevention of child abuse. The Center for the Protection of Children is poised to pioneer an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to addressing the causes and consequences of child maltreatment.