Why is sexual abuse declining? A survey of state child protection administrators.



Objectives: Cases of substantiated sexual abuse have declined approximately 39% nationwide from 1992 to 1999, according to estimates from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). Despite the dramatic nature of the decline, little discussion of the trend has occurred at either the national or the state level. Aims of the research were to: (1) gather state-level information about possible sources of the sexual abuse decline, (2) identify child protection trends that might be contributing to the decline, and (3) assess the level of awareness of the decline in state child protection offices. Methods: Telephone interviews were conducted with child protection administrators in 43 states. Results: More than half of the officials in states with large declines were unaware of any discussion of the declines within their agency or in the public at large within their state. State officials cited a diverse array of possible causes for the decline, including: (1) increased evidentiary requirements to substantiate cases, (2) increased caseworker caution due to new legal rights for caregivers, and (3) increasing limitations on the types of cases that agencies accept for investigation. More than half also mentioned the effectiveness of prevention programs, increased prosecution, and public awareness campaigns, implying that a portion of the decline may result from a real decline in occurrence. Conclusions: Responses from child protection officials have inherent biases, but they are useful in generating hypotheses for further study in trying to account for the decline. The results suggest that further discussion and increased analysis of child maltreatment system data are important next steps.



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Child Abuse and Neglect



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