Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics
Annual ReportFiscal Year 1997

The term "child abuse and neglect" is still relatively new to the American vocabulary. The phenomenon it describes, however, is not. Citizens and elected leaders frequently and rightfully assert that children are this nation’s most precious resource. Yet the maltreatment of children—be it socially, culturally or economically fostered—is a long and continuing theme in the country’s history. The first widely known case of child abuse was that of Mary Ellen Wilson of New York City in 1874. She had been tied to a bed and beaten by her stepmother and the woman’s new husband. A concerned visitor called the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A Society lawyer argued for the young girl’s freedom, citing an old English writ that barred the captivity of one person by another. She was eventually released to an orphanage.

Mary Ellen’s case inspired the formation nationwide of hundreds of societies for prevention of cruelty to children. They operated on two basic models. One focused on identifying and prosecuting the abusers. The other emphasized family rehabilitation. Both approaches were used for several decades. Both were supplanted in the 1920s by the rise of public child welfare agencies. By World War II, most of the societies were gone and the child protection issue in America was again virtually unaddressed.

In the 1950s, several radiologists suggested that multiple bone fractures and subdural hematomas in children that they had studied might be caused by the children’s parents. Then in 1962, Dr. C. Henry Kempe of the American Academy of Pediatrics gave the phenomenon a name: Battered Child Syndrome. He defined it as "a clinical condition in which young children receive serious physical abuse, generally from a parent or foster parent." Parents who abuse their children, he continued, "do not necessarily have psychopathic or sociopathic personalities or come from borderline socioeconomic groups. . . [But] in most cases some defect of character structure is probably present; often parents may be repeating the same type of child care practiced on them."

In an editorial on Kempe’s findings, the American Medical Association said, "It is likely the battered child syndrome will be found to be a more frequent cause of child death than such well recognized and thoroughly studied diseases as leukemia, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy." Right or wrong, this observation and Kempe’s work triggered a massive outpouring of public and media attention to the evocatively-titled new syndrome. Within five years, virtually every state in the union had passed a child abuse reporting law.

Illinois’ first reporting law was enacted in 1965. Like most other such statutes, it defined child abuse basically as physical maltreatment and required primarily just medical professionals to report it to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Over the years, however, both the definition of abuse and the classes of people who can report have been broadened many times. In the late 1960s, for example, child neglect and abandonment were added to the definition. In the early 1970s, teachers became mandated reporters. Shortly afterwards, the Department began accepting reports from the general public. From the beginning, the Department maintained a paper-based register of all abuse and neglect reports. The initial reports, however, had to be made to local field offices. After hours and on weekends, callers often found themselves talking to answering service employees instead of Department staff. This problem was addressed in 1980 with creation of the Department’s centralized child abuse hotline. At the same time, the central register of past and current reports was put on a computer data base. Although frequently amended and refined, this same basic structure for receiving and processing reports remains today.

The hotline is open around the clock to receive reports. Its toll-free number is 1-800-25ABUSE. Hearing-impaired persons may call a TTY line at 1-800-358-5117, while persons outside Illinois may call 217-785-4020. Mandated reporters must call the hotline when they suspect a child has been abused or neglected. Reporting by private citizens is voluntary and, if they wish, anonymous.

Calls are answered by social service professionals with specialized training in interviewing techniques, risk assessment, and computer data management. If a caller describes a situation that includes the following four elements, staff will take a report:

  • An alleged child victim under 18 years of age

  • An alleged perpetrator who is responsible for the care of the child, an immediate family member, or an individual residing in the same home as the child

  • A set of circumstances or specific incident

  • Harm or substantial risk of harm to the child.

If these elements are not all present, but a child and family could still benefit from services, the hotline worker may refer them to a community-based agency for help. If a report is taken, the worker next conducts an electronic search of the central register of "pending" (an investigation is still in process) reports and past reports that were "indicated" (credible evidence of abuse/neglect was found). This is done to determine if the child or alleged perpetrator has been involved in any prior reports. At the same time, data on the new report is entered into the register. Information on the new report, plus details on past reports, is then faxed to a local office for investigation. Each DCFS region has geographically assigned teams of child protection workers on call around the clock to perform this work.

By law, an investigation must begin within 24 hours of the report’s receipt and include in-person contact with the child. If a child is in imminent danger or it appears the family may flee with the child, the investigation must begin immediately. If the child is in imminent danger, DCFS staff, law enforcement officers and physicians may take temporary protective custody and place the child in the Department’s care. For such an arrangement to extend beyond 48 hours (excluding weekends and court holidays), it must be reviewed by an appropriate court.

Through interviews and analysis, field staff investigate each allegation made in a report, as well as any others that may present themselves during the investigation itself. One of staff’s primary tools is the Child Endangerment Risk Assessment Protocol. The Department developed this in FY96 in collaboration with the American Humane Association and a statewide, multi-disciplinary task force. It helps workers identify safety factors at critical junctures in a case and then guides development of a safety protection plan. It is administered during the investigation and then, if a case is opened, at six month intervals and other key times. Since the protocol’s inception, more than 6,000 direct service and supervisory stafffrom DCFS and private agencies have been trained and certified in its use.

Local law enforcement agencies, at their option, may help investigate reports of serious physical injury or sexual abuse. Where they exist, Child Advocacy Centers may also assist. Sixteen such centers have been established in Illinois since 1989. Their purpose is to coordinate investigative activities regarding sexual abuse or serious physical injury cases, minimize stress to children and families, and arrange effective treatment. Initially, they were funded through the federal Children’s Justice Act. Now they are supported primarily by a growing GRF appropriation and local contributions or specially-levied sales taxes.

Investigations must normally be completed within 60 days. Under special circumstances, however, 30-day extensions may be granted. Once complete, an investigation is classified as either "indicated" or "unfounded." The former means that sufficient (credible) evidence has been established to lead a reasonable person to conclude that abuse or neglect did indeed occur. The latter means that allegations could not be confirmed. If indicated, a report remains in the central register’s computer for five, twenty, or fifty years depending on the severity of the indicated allegations. If unfounded, a report will be expunged from the register in accordance with the law (certain unfounded reports will be retained for one or three years), although if a subject of the unfounded reports believes he or she was falsely accused, the subject may request the unfounded report be retained in the register for five years.

Perpetrators who disagree with an "indicated" finding may seek to reverse it through the Department’s administrative appeals process. This settles most issues. However, perpetrators may seek further appeal through the courts. Mandated reporters who disagree when a report they made is "unfounded" may ask a DCFS multi-disciplinary review team to evaluate the investigation. Nine such teams have been operating around the state since January 1997. They consist of one DCFS employee, usually the child protection manager, plus representatives of four other professions that deal with child abuse and neglect. They may recommend that a finding be reversed or that a report, if necessary, be re-investigated.

Whether a report is eventually indicated or unfounded, the Department always evaluates the child and family’s service needs. To improve the resulting treatment, the Department launched a Front End Redesign Initiative in FY96. Its goals are to connect families to services more quickly, in a planful manner, and at the community level. This will be done by closely linking the Department’s investigative and service functions. Two models for doing so are being field tested. In the integrated model, one protective services worker is responsible for all interaction with a family—from the investigation through the arrangement or provision of service—for as long as the child can remain safely at home. In the paired team model, separate workers perform the investigative and service functions, but they have the same supervisor. Both models call for in-person handoff of cases. The Department will evaluate both models in late FY98 and schedule further implementation as indicated.

Related programs or initiatives that help families during the critical early stages of their involvement with DCFS include:

  • Realignment of Intact Family Caseloads. In the Spring of 1997, Cook County intact family units were transferred from regional supervision to the Division of Child Protection. This will ease implementation in Cook County of the new Front End model and facilitate the immediate provision of services to families in situations where placement outside the home is unnecessary. By placing intact family workers and child protection investigators in the same division, these staff have been able to develop a much closer working relationship. Two improvements closely linked to these changes are: a mandated, face-to-face handoff between the two workers when a case moves from investigations to the service unit; and co-location of the investigators and service workers to provide for a coordinated, community-based response to families involved in the child protection system.

  • Extended Family Services. This program is for families who are caring for related children in informal arrangements. These families are not necessarily neglectful or abusive, but may become so if no social services are offered. The focus is on short-term interventions to stabilize households and help relatives continue to provide care.

  • Child Welfare Service Cases. These are opened for families who have not abused or neglected their children, but still need help. They fall into two primary groups: dependency situations, where parents are unable to care for children for reasons other than abuse or neglect; and risk situations, where factors are present that could put a child at risk if intervention does not occur.

  • Emergency Cash Assistance and Housing Locator Service. The Department offers families such aid when environmental safety issues (inadequate food, inadequate clothing or shelter or environmental neglect) are the only reasons a child must be placed or cannot return home. Cash goes directly to the person or organization that provides needed services, such as a utility company, the landlord, a plumber or electrician. DCFS supervisors can approve up to $800 for a family once during a 12-month period. Under exceptional circumstances, regional managers may approve up to $1,200 for a family.

  • Family Centered Services Initiative. This federally authorized demonstration program is entering its fourth year. Under it, DCFS awards formula-based grants to each of the state’s 62 Local Area Networks. These are community-based, voluntary, non-governmental bodies of citizens and human services leaders. Their administrative boundaries are observed by several state agencies. With their grants, they plan, coordinate and arrange services at the community level. Two-thirds of their service dollars must be devoted to prevention-oriented family support programs; the other third supports preservation services for families in which abuse or neglect have already been indicated.

  • Healthy FIT (Family Intervention Team). This program and accompanying protocol were developed in FY96 by the DCFS Clinical Services Division to guide intervention in reports of substance exposed infants. Collaborators include the Illinois and Chicago Departments of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Human Services Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, DCFS and Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. Under it, a multi-disciplinary team meets mothers and newborns at the hospital to offer comprehensive services. Such aid includes assessments, drug treatment for the mother, home visits, and other child welfare services. The primary treatment plans are to ensure the infant’s health and safety, end parental drug abuse, and stabilize the family’s home life. If the mother remains unable or unwilling to care for the baby, another plan is made to establish permanency for the child and its siblings.

  • Prevention. To keep family problems from escalating to the point of abuse or neglect, the Department encourages communities to develop and provide preventive services. Help can include home visitors, parent training, parent support groups, or respite care. Many such services are developed through the Family Centered Services Initiative. Others are developed with support from the Child Abuse Prevention Fund and the Community-Based Family Resource Program. The prevention fund is a state program financed by contributions taxpayers make when they file their state income tax returns. The resource program is federally funded. In addition to specific prevention programs, it supports local networking with the Head Start Collaboration Project.


The Department regularly monitors and evaluates its child protection programs to ensure the maximum degree of safety for children. This work was significantly boosted in FY96 by establishment of the Children and Family Research Center. The center is a cooperative undertaking by DCFS and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Housed at the university’s School of Social Work, its functions are to:

  • Evaluate service outcomes

  • Conduct research on critical issues

  • Pursue new avenues of inquiry that directly inform child welfare policy and practice

  • Develop additional capacity in Illinois to support relevant training and research.

To date, child protection-related research performed by the Center has included an evaluation of the Child Endangerment and Risk Assessment Protocol, a phone survey on implementation of the Family Centered Services Initiative, development of a database linking child welfare and child maltreatment statistics, and evaluation of the DCFS/DASA initiative to treat substance-abusing parents.

The Department has also supported child death review teams throughout the state since FY96. There are nine such teams appointed by the DCFS Director. Each consists of at least 10 professionals from disciplines related to child welfare. They are mandated to review all deaths of children who were wards of the Department, subjects of an open service case, subjects of pending abuse or neglect reports, or subjects of a report in the year prior to their death. Teams also have the option to examine other sudden or unexplained child deaths, and most do. In each case, they review the thoroughness of the investigation, clarify the cause of death, identify potential preventive measures, and locate gaps in services to children and families. As a result, they recommended more than 30 improvements in the investigative process and the identification of high risk families. Results were also shared with the DCFS Inspector General, which investigates child deaths when there has been prior Department involvement.

About This Report . . .

The remainder of this report presents statewide, regional, and county statistics on a host of categories. Statistics do not prevent child abuse and neglect, but they do demonstrate the need for the commitment of all citizens to protect our children. Please review the following tables, charts, and graphs for a better understanding of the magnitude of the problem.