The University of Alabama

UA Study Reveals That Child Abuse and Neglect Cost Alabama $521 Million A Year

By Suzanne Dowling

Photo by Zack RigginsChild abuse costs Alabamians more than $520 million each year, according to the report prepared by UA’s College of Human Environmental Sciences (CHES) and the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER).

“The Costs of Child Abuse vs. Child Abuse Prevention: Alabama’s Experience,” an extensive study that breaks out the economic impact that child abuse has on the state of Alabama, was released last week at a press conference featuring Alabama First Lady Patsy Riley, UA officials, and members of the Children’s Trust Fund of Alabama.

CHES Dean Milla Boschung cited the excellent collaboration between the College of Human Environmental Sciences with its focus on children and families, the Children’s Trust Fund of Alabama, and CBER to conduct this study. Child Abuse is a critical issue that impacts children each day, and this study compares both the direct and indirect costs along with the amount of funds that is spent on child abuse prevention in the state.

According to Carl Ferguson, director emeritus of CBER who conducted the study along with Annette Watters from CBER and Rebecca Odum, a graduate student in CHES, the report divided the economic impact of child abuse into direct costs such as hospital bills and costs to the judicial and welfare systems, and indirect costs that include adult criminality and lost productivity to society.

“We drew on data from various national studies, then applied those figures to state demographics to come up with the estimates,” he explained.

“Because of where child abuse has been placed among all the strategic issues in the state, childcare statistics are poor at best,” Ferguson said. “So what you have to do is go with national or regional statistics that attempt to apply this.”

“[The report says] that we understand there are issues with transferring regional and national statistics to Alabama, on the other hand we know that these costs are there, so this is a best faith effort to recognize these costs.”

Ferguson said the intention behind the report was to raise awareness, not propose solutions.

“These costs are there, these costs are real, and we have a role to play,” he said.

“This study simply says wake up, there’s an issue.” Marian Loftin, director of Alabama Children’s Trust Fund, said the figure came as a surprise to her, too. “We knew it was very, very costly,” Loftin said. “I did not think it would be that high.” The Children’s Trust Fund (CTF) is the main provider in the State of Alabama for child abuse and neglect prevention services and the 2005 expenditures were $3,795,993.

Paul Smelley, deputy director of the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect, which oversees the Children’s Trust Fund, said the new information will help advocates by providing easy-to-grasp figures to cite in literature and when talking to legislators about budgeting needs.

The following is a breakdown of costs listed in the study:

Direct Costs
Hospitalization and Low Birth Weight Births $80,376,333
Chronic Health Problems $16,660,269
Mental Health Care System $14,659,500
Child Welfare System $278,097,807
Law Enforcement $117,490
Judicial System $2,220,446
Indirect Costs
Special education costs $2,603,192
Juvenile Delinquency $97,419,960
Lost Productivity to Society, incl. Mortality and Unemployment $12,805,583
Adult Criminality $15,943,200