University of Tennessee report quantifies the staggering costs of child abuse

By: - June 8, 2023 6:01 am
An estimated one in eight children in Tennessee will have been found to suffer abuse or neglect by the time they reach the age of 18. (Photo: Getty Images)

An estimated one in eight children in Tennessee will have been found to suffer abuse or neglect by the time they reach the age of 18. (Photo: Getty Images)

A new report attempts to tally the staggering economic costs of child abuse and neglect in Tennessee, where an estimated one in eight children will have been found to suffer abuse or neglect by the time they reach the age of 18.

Child abuse costs the state between $3 and $5 billion each year, a tab picked up in large part by Tennessee taxpayers who foot the bill in increased healthcare costs, special education services, child welfare, juvenile justice and other publicly funded programs for survivors, the report from the  Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Second Look Commission said.

The toll of abuse can follow a victim throughout adulthood, costs that continue to be born by communities in child abuse survivors’ lost wages and productivity, premature deaths and criminal justice involvement, the report said. That cost for a single survivor of substantiated child abuse, the report estimated, could amount to $285,000.

For children who don’t survive their abuse — and an average of 22 children each year in Tennessee do not, according to the report — the young lives lost represent a nearly $38 million economic loss.

 Substantiated First-time Victims per 1,000 Children per Year, by County

Substantiated First-time Victims per 1,000 Children per Year, by County (Source: The Economic Costs of Child Abuse and Neglect in Tennessee)

“This gives us a price tag on maintaining the status quo,” said Kylie Graves, director of the Tennessee Second Look Commission, which reviews child abuse cases in order to deliver data and policy recommendations to the state legislature.

The report, conducted using standard economic projections and state budget information, does not include specific recommendations.

But Graves said she hopes the startling figures it has produced will bolster arguments for increased investments in a broad range of public supports and interventions that include, but go beyond, the $1.35 billion budget for the Department of Children’s Services, which spends its combination of federal and state dollars largely on foster care, crisis intervention and supports for a family after there has already been abuse allegations.

The report’s findings underscore arguments for the need to strengthen the financial stability of Tennessee families through access to government programs such as TANF (which provides cash support), SNAP, (which offers food vouchers), WIC, (supporting newborns) and continued use of the child care tax credit, Graves said. Other investments in prevention can include home visits to families welcoming newborns and enlisting or requiring the business community to provide paid family leave.

“By nature, obviously when we talk about abuse and neglect, peoples’ minds default to the Department of Children’s Services.” But, she said, “we need to strengthen economic supports.”

The report considered only substantiated cases of abuse and neglect — those that rose to the attention of child welfare officials. The findings, the report notes, are likely to underestimate the true costs.

Tccy Report June 2023 (2) by Anita Wadhwani on Scribd

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.