Nobody Knows How Many Kids Die From Maltreatment and Abuse in the U.S.

In 2016, ProPublica and The Boston Globe requested records for every child who died from child abuse between 2011 and 2015.

We got around 7,000 records in response, a number that’s already slightly higher and much more detailed than the information available to the public from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System — the main source of this data since the 1980s — over the same period. But experts agree that it’s still a substantial undercount and that child fatalities may be three times higher.

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which mandates that state child welfare agencies provide the public with these records, is a poorly funded program and compliance is low. Related Story →

Here’s How Each State and D.C. Responded When We Asked for Records:

  • provided all required information
  • provided only some of the required information
  • provided little or none of the required information

Note: Many states provided records of all child fatalities, but only included some of the information required by CAPTA. Most often, states did not include information about previous contact with child welfare services. Other states did not describe the circumstances of the child’s death.

In each record, CAPTA requires states to list the age and gender of the child, and information about a household’s prior contact with welfare services. The information is supposed to help government agencies prevent child abuse, neglect and death, but reporting across states is so inconsistent that comparisons and trends are impossible to identify. ProPublica is releasing the data we've collected as a minimum count of child fatality records in the United States. Researchers and journalists can download the full records with summaries at the ProPublica Data Store.

See the Records:

State City or County Year Age of Child Gender of Child Cause of Death Services Previously Provided Documents

Sources: Arizona, Freedom of Information Act requests; Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin child welfare agencies.

The following people and newsrooms contributed to our effort to compile this data: Vittoria Elliot, Alissa Escarce, Sanya Mansoor, Decca Muldowney, Kierra Murray, Emily Palmer and Nour Saudi. North Carolina's records were compiled by Tyler Dukes from WRAL. Many of California's records were compiled by Karen de Sá, Cynthia Dizikes, Joaquin Palomino and Erin Stone from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Incorrect Info? Each record in our database comes from a FOIA request to a state agency or records already published online. Spot an error? Let us know at [email protected].

Notes: Washington, D.C., responded to our initial request for data with multiple records of child fatalities, including ones the child welfare agency later said were not entirely relevant to our inquiry. A spokesperson indicated that not all of the fatality reports we received were the result of abuse or neglect, but did not respond to multiple requests to identify the relevant records.

ProPublica's records request to Missouri has not been completely fulfilled and is estimated to total more than $3,000 in fees. State officials said releasing the records would require extensive redactions beforehand.

Wyoming provided no records. State officials said that all information is banned from release by state law and that they are not compliant with CAPTA.

New Mexico responded to our records request with a single individual report over a six-year period, which state officials said was the only report approved for release. According to a spokesperson for the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department, New Mexico does not provide individual reports on child fatalities to the public. Instead, the state provides aggregate reports that do not contain all of the categories required by CAPTA.

Kansas officials said they would only fulfill our records request if we paid a bill of $11,600 to cover the costs of releasing the data. Because of the expense, the information is not readily available to the public and Kansas does not appear to be CAPTA compliant. Kansas did not respond to our questions about the high cost of the records request and lack of public accessibility. In March 2018, Kansas passed a bill that would make this information more accessible, but the law does not apply retroactively.

Montana provided no data in response to our request in 2016. However, Montana's state law was updated to allow the release of all information required under CAPTA. State officials said fatalities that are recorded in April 2017 or later will be made available.

Oklahoma responded to our records request with select records of individual children that other media organizations have previously asked for by name. State officials said that they will only release records when requested by the child's name. They declined to provide additional records, citing the lack of staff time and resources. Because the full records are not available to the public, Oklahoma does not appear to be CAPTA compliant.

We requested records from New York in June 2016. State officials have provided ProPublica with some of the records, but they said a full records release would not be available until January 2019. As of December 2019, we have not received any additional records. Of the records we have received, New York provided all the required fields.

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