Kentucky nearly doubles U.S. child abuse victim rate

Despite dropping for the third consecutive year, Kentucky’s rate of child abuse victims continues to outpace the national average.

Despite dropping for the third consecutive year, Kentucky’s rate of child abuse victims continues to outpace the national average.

The “Child Maltreatment 2021” report released this year by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau found Kentucky’s rate of child abuse victims in 2021 was 14.7 per 1,000 children. That means about 15 kids out of every 1,000 children in Kentucky experienced some form of maltreatment during 2021.

Kentucky’s child abuse victim rate was about twice as high as the U.S. rate of 8.1 victims and slightly more than Indiana’s rate of 13.6 victims. Most child abuse victims in Kentucky, Indiana and the U.S. were younger than age 1.

Only five states reported higher child abuse victim rates than Kentucky in 2021: West Virginia Maine, Massachusetts, Iowa and Alaska.

Here’s how Kentucky and Indiana compared with the rest of the U.S. in key child maltreatment indicators:

 2021 victims2021 victim rate (per 1,000 children)
Data collected from “Child Maltreatment 2021” report: Child Maltreatment 2021 (

Experts suspect COVID-19 pandemic still impacting reporting of suspected child abuse

Rates dropping may seem like good news, but experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact the reporting of suspected child abuse or maltreatment.

The “Child Maltreatment 2021” report found that the number and percentage of school personnel reporting suspected child abuse or maltreatment continued to lag pre-pandemic data as states and school systems continued using virtual learning in response to COVID-19.

“While the recent declines in child abuse cases and victim rates might be celebrated, they deserve further scrutiny in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Melissa L. Currie, M.D., child abuse pediatrician and director of Norton Children’s Pediatric Protection Specialists, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “The pandemic likely affected the number of suspected child abuse cases in 2021 as fewer professionals trained to identify and report signs of child maltreatment were able to interact with children as schools and day cares intermittently closed based on their COVID-19 protocols.”

Preventing child abuse

While Kentucky and Indiana families continue to experience pandemic-related and other stressors in 2023, experts have tips on how we can work together to reduce stress and prevent child abuse.

“Research has found that when families are stressed, children are at higher risk of being abused,” said Kelly L. Dauk, M.D., chair, Norton Children’s Hospital Child Abuse Task Force and pediatric hospitalist with Norton Children’s Inpatient Care, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Caregivers must take care of themselves physically and emotionally and ask for help if they are struggling. We all have a responsibility to help those who are struggling and report concerns for child safety and well-being.”

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

In Kentucky, the number to call to report suspected child abuse is (877) KY-SAFE1 (597-2331). The National Child Abuse Hotline, (800) 4-A-CHILD (422-4453), offers professional crisis counselors who can provide intervention, information and referrals to emergency, social service and support resources. Calls are confidential. In Kentucky, everyone is mandated to report a reasonable suspicion that maltreatment has occurred. Reporting child abuse and neglect is the right thing to do, and it’s the law.

Here are some ways parents and bystanders can make a lifesaving difference:

  • If you feel yourself about to lose control with a child, it’s OK to step away. Listen to your favorite song, take a few deep breaths or call a friend. 
  • Keep a list of friends’ and family members’ phone numbers to call for support. 
  • Learn the TEN-4 bruising rule: Children under age 4 should not have bruising on the torso, ears or neck. Infants who are not mobile rarely have any bruises, anywhere on their bodies.
  • If you know a parent who may be feeling stressed, offer to babysit so he or she can have a break for an hour or two.
  • Offer to run an errand for a neighbor with small children who has difficulty getting out of the house. A small gesture like that can greatly reduce stress for the parent. 
  • If you see someone about to raise a hand to a child, you can help the situation. Even saying something like, “I remember when my child acted like that,” can break the tension and protect the child.