Divorce, Cohabitation, Single Parenting and the Increased Risk of Child Abuse and Neglect

A recent report which enumerated the risks associated with kids whose parents are cohabiting rather than married showed that one of the significant risks for children in those living arrangement was an increased chance of suffering abuse or neglect. In reviewing the statistics set forth in that report, it became evident that the risk of abuse and neglect is a very real risk for children in cohabiting households, children from single parent families and children of divorce. In this article, we will define child abuse and neglect, examine some of the statistics regarding the level of abuse and neglect for children in different living situations, list potential warning signs of abuse and neglect and discuss what to do in the event that you suspect a child is being abused.

Introduction to the Magnitude of Child Abuse and Neglect

We will get to much more detailed statistics on the prevalence of abuse and types of living arrangement which are more prone to abuse and neglect later in this article. However, I think it is important to have some grasp of the magnitude of the problem and why it should be important to anyone who works with kids on a regular basis. According to the January 2010 report entitled “Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (referred to herein as NIS-4), over 1.2 million children suffer harm from child abuse or neglect per year. That equates to 17.1 children per 1,000 or approximately 1 in every 58 children. When children who are endangered by abuse or neglect are added to those figures, the numbers rise to over 2.9 million kids or 39.5 per thousand. That equates to one in every 25 children. The reach and magnitude of abuse and neglect are as varied as the forms of abuse and the types of children who experience it.

In the article “When The Bough Breaks,” Martin Johnson wrote:

“Perhaps the most important part of understanding child abuse is realizing the depth of physical and emotional pain the child victim must feel. As adults in ministry to children, we can see the crisis intellectually, yet it’s extremely difficult for us to genuinely empathize with the hurt and isolation the child feels – unless we’ve felt it too. And sometimes we simply don’t recognize that real, serious, ongoing abuse is taking place in the homes of some of the children we minister to every week. Sometimes, we just don’t realize the problem.”

So, why have we decided to devote time and resources to the issue of abuse here at Divorce Ministry 4 Kids? First, we are appalled at the general level of abuse and neglect of children in this country, and churches need to be equipped to recognize and report (where necessary) possible incidences of abuse and neglect. Secondly, the statistics we will be examining later show that abuse and neglect are very real risks to children of divorce, children in single-parent families, and children in cohabiting homes – the very children that we seek to minister to here at Divorce Ministry 4 Kids. In fact, statistics show that it is these children who are at the highest risk of abuse and neglect.

Consider the following chart. The following table summarizes the number of children per 1,000 who have suffered harm as a result of child abuse or neglect (this does not include children who had not been harmed but were judged to be in imminent danger because of abuse or neglect) as well as the relative risk of each group compared to children who live in homes with married biological parents:

Type of Living Arrangement Instances of Maltreatment per 1,000 Children Risk Relative to Married Biological Parents
Parent With Cohabiting Partner 57.2 841.18%
Neither Parent 33.2 488.24%
Single Parent, No Partner 28.4 417.65%
Other Married Parents 24.4 358.82%
Cohabiting Biological Parents 23.5 345.59%
Married Biological Parents 6.8 100.00%

Of these six types of livings arrangements included in the report, married biological parents have, by far, the lowest incidence of abuse and neglect at 6.8 children per thousand. This is consistent regardless of what type of abuse or neglect you are examining or that standard used in determining whether an action rises to the level of abuse or neglect. Cohabiting biological parents and step families have similar rates of abuse and neglect which are about 3.5 times higher than married biological parents. Single Parent families have a rate 4.1 times higher than married biological parents, and children living in single parent families with a cohabiting partner are abused and neglected 842% more frequently than kids living with married biological parents.

The children Divorce Ministry 4 Kids seeks to serve and minister to are the exact children who are most likely to suffer harm by abuse at the hands of, or neglect by, a caregiver.

Over the course of the next month, we will present a nine part series here on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on Child Abuse and Neglect. This series will cover different types of abuse and neglect, statistics related to the risks of abuse and neglect, recognizing warning signs and how to report suspected abuse and neglect. Here at Divorce Ministry 4 Kids, we feel that this issue is serious enough to warrant dedicating an entire month to. We hope that you will read all of the articles so that you, and those in your children’s ministry, will be better prepared to deal with this issue which is all too prevalent and disproportionately affects children of divorce and children from single-parent homes. The series will include the following articles:

  1. Divorce, Single Parenting and the Increased Risk of Child Abuse and Neglect – An Introduction [09/19/2011]
  2. What is Child Abuse and Neglect? [09/21/2011]
  3. Introduction to the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect [09/26/2011]
  4. Risks of Child Abuse and Neglect Based on Family Structure [09/28/2011]
  5. Recognizing Signs of Potential Child Abuse and Neglect [10/03/2011]
  6. What to Do If You Suspect Child Abuse or Neglect [10/05/2011]
  7. How to Talk to an Abused or Neglected Child [10/10/2011]
  8. Reporting Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect [10/12/2011]
  9. Sources of Additional Information on Child Abuse and Neglect [10/17/2011]
  10. Appendix A – Sample Policy for Reporting Suspected Abuse and Neglect [10/19/2011]

A pdf file will be posted at the end of the series including the information from all nine articles in one comprehensive, not-so-brief, but easy to use format.

For those of you who have expertise in this area, or have dealt with abuse and neglect situations in the past, we hope that you will join the conversation by adding your voice to the series through comments on the articles or on our Facebook Page.

Absolutely. We appreciate you spreading the word. If possible, please credit DivorceMinistry4Kids.com as the source of the information. Thanks!