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Studies Show State & Local Economic Impact of Child Abuse

Updated: Apr 25, 2019


The cumulative economic impact of child abuse is about $115 million in Santa Barbara County and $19 billion in California, according to studies from the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and the nonprofit organization Safe & Sound.


In March 2019, the researchers released The Economics of Child Abuse: A Study of California, showing the statewide figures. (For further context on the statewide report, visit https://safeandsound.org/CA-Cost/.) On April 5, they released The Economics of Child Abuse: 2018 Study of California, a data sheet breaking out the information for Santa Barbara County in particular.


Child maltreatment is a persistent and pervasive problem throughout California. Although it is a hidden social ill, its impact is significant. Child maltreatment impacts not just the child, but the family, the community, and society at large. In California, as many as one out of every 19 children is suspected of being maltreated. 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 maltreatment is a core underlying factor in many of California’s ongoing struggles, such as high rates of school dropout, homelessness, incarceration, and chronic health issues. This research shines a light on this largely ignored issue and the negative impact it has on all of us.


In 2018, California had 71,289 verified child victims with a cumulative financial impact of $19.31 billion. These figures include costs to health care, education, child welfare, and criminal justice, as well as lifetime productivity and fatalities. The costs are accrued over the course of the victim’s lifetime; however these costs will continue to accumulate each year, until we are able to reduce and ultimately end child maltreatment.


It is useful to consider what else that money could buy the state instead: for example, a four-year college education for 185,000 young adults (43% of California's graduating seniors) or a year of preschool for more than 2,000,000 children (500,000 more than the number of preschoolers in the state).


In 2018, Santa Barbara County had 423 verified victims with a cumulative financial impact of $114.6 million. The true cost may be even higher. Child abuse is widely considered to be under-reported. In 2018, Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services received 5,211 reports of abuse (that's one every two hours), and yet some estimate there could be 11,581 actual victims in our County.


Beyond the data points and dollar figures, there are real children and real lives forever changed. Every child deserves to be safe, to be protected, and to be loved. Child maltreatment is not inevitable. Its destructive effects on victims, families, and our community as a whole can be avoided. As recent federal guidance has emphasized, strong cross-sector prevention efforts can prevent child maltreatment and keep families together.

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