The Economics of Child Abuse
A Study of California

A Report by Safe & Sound
March 2019

Child maltreatment is a persistent and pervasive problem throughout California. Although it is a hidden social ill, its impact is significant. Child maltreatment effects not just the child, but the family, the community, and society at large. The impact of maltreatment not only morally degrades our society, it significantly hurts our economy. In fact, the physical, mental, and emotional effects of maltreatment persist long after child maltreatment occurs, and result in ongoing costs to every sector of California.

Child Abuse in California (2017)

Lots of dots, mobile
Lots of dots, mobile
Lots of dots, mobile
Lots of dots, mobile
Lots of dots, desktop
Lots of dots, desktop
Lots of dots, desktop
Lots of dots, desktop
One Dot = 100 Reports


Estimations, or 11.5% of children in California.


Reports, or one report every minute.


Substantiations, or 195 per day.


Fatalities from child maltreatment.

The Cost of Abuse

Cost of Abuse map, San Francisco
Cost of Abuse map, Bay Area
Cost of Abuse map, California


Total economic burden incurred by the California community for the lifetime costs associated with the victims of child maltreatment in 2017. That same amount could fund 15% of the state’s annual operating budget.

Read about Califonia costs


Total economic burden incurred by the Bay Area community for the lifetime costs associated with the victims of child maltreatment in 2017. That same amount could put 19,000 students through a 4-year college.

Read about Bay Area costs


Total economic burden incurred by the San Francisco community for the lifetime costs associated with the victims of child maltreatment in 2017. That same amount could send 24,000 kids to preschool.

Read about San Francisco costs

Meet Anna

Anna as a child

She wanted to own a grocery store when she was growing up. Starting at 10 years old Anna’s mom’s boyfriend began to abuse her.

This lasted for years, because her mother did not report the abuse for fear of repercussions from the government, society, and him.

Finally, a teacher suspected something was wrong, and reached out. Anna’s voice was heard and her mother was supported too.

The teacher called child welfare, which determined that Anna would be safer in foster care while her mother received needed support so that they could be reunified.


average per victim for child welfare cost, conservatively

Intervention services, Foster care, Counseling

During the abuse and after, Anna was frequently absent from school and needed special education classes to help her learn.


average per victim for special education cost

Learning disabilities, Higher absenteeism, Poorer academic performance

Feeling shame and anger, Anna acted out, breaking the law and ending up in juvenile detention


average per victim for criminal justice cost

Increased likelihood of child / juvenile & adult arrests
Anna as a adolescent

Now, Anna is struggling to create a stable life for her own child. She attends Safe & Sound Family Support Center to build her support network, improve parenting abilities, and care for her son. Safe & Sound and essential family support centers throughout California offer free services for families.

To get the support she needs, Anna goes to therapy. She also sees doctors regularly for a host of health issues, including high blood pressure, that her cardiologist believes is a result of the stress and trauma of her childhood.


average increased lifetime healthcare costs of a victim over a non-victim

Higher incidence of chronic health problems, Mental health issues, Substance abuse, Risky sexual behavior

Luckily Anna’s juvenile record was sealed, as it was hard enough to secure a job given her learning disability and medical requirements. Though she has work, her dream of owning a store remains unrealized as of yet and her earning potential diminished.


average dollars loss to decreased productivity over a victim’s lifetime

Diminished earning potential, Unemployment because of everything above

Anna is working hard at her job, her parenting classes, and getting her life on the path she wants for her family, but she will never forget the trauma of her childhood.


average, in 2018 dollars, total per child cost to our community as a result of maltreatment

Anna as an adult

California’s Risk Factors

A variety of factors place children and their families at greater risk for maltreatment. These are some of those factors that are endemic to California:

Socioeconomic Inequality & Poverty

Today, the gap between the rich and poor is twice as large in California as it was in 1980. Research suggests that income, or socioeconomic status, is the strongest predictor of maltreatment rates.

Lack of Adequate & Affordable Housing

Californians spend a disproportionate amount of their income on housing. California’s median monthly housing costs were 47% higher than the U.S median. In addition to increasing families’ stress, lack of affordable housing leads to greater rates of cohabitation.

High Unemployment Rates

Although unemployment in California is historically low — 4.2% as of June 2018 — concentrated areas of unemployment persist. High levels of unemployment increase economic uncertainty and stress for families.


As of a 2017 point-in-time count, more than 112,000 individuals were homeless in California —more than 21,000 of whom were in families. Homelessness is a major driver of temporary family separation, not only increasing family stress but also the number of caregivers in a child’s life.

Community Violence

Across the state, families exposed to a culture of violence often experience trauma, strain, and fear, all of which increase the likelihood of child maltreatment.

Substance Abuse

From 2014-2016, an estimated 6.37% of the California population consumed a problematic amount of alcohol. Families with problematic alcohol or drug use often experience trauma, strain, and fear.

Social Isolation & Marginalization

In 2016, 27% of Californians were foreign-born and California’s U.S.-born population was characterized by churn and turnover. From 2007–2016, about 5 million people moved to California from other states, while about 6 million left California, leading to deteriorated social and support networks.

Wildfires & Natural Disasters

In the last several years, wildfires have posed an ever-growing threat to Californians. For example, between July 2017 and July 2018, Sonoma County experienced several wildfires and saw a 35% increase in reports of child maltreatment, as well as increases in substance abuse and domestic violence.

Join Us

We call for a public-private collaboration to create policies and practices that:

Bolster individual, family, and community protective factors, particularly for high-risk groups

Raise awareness

Address local risk factors and root causes of child maltreatment

Ensure an educated and active population

Interested in volunteering? Find out how.

Further Reading

Spread the Word