WASHINGTON — More than 91,000 babies were mistreated in their first year of life in the United States in 2006, according to the first national estimate of abuse of the nation's youngest, most vulnerable children, prepared by federal officials on the basis of cases substantiated by state and local children's protective services agencies.
Although the report focused on nonfatal maltreatment, officials estimated that abuse killed another 499 children in 2006 before their first birthday.
"It's a picture that you don't even want to imagine — that this number of infants are being maltreated," said Ileana Arias of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which prepared the report. "We find it incredibly distressing and unacceptable that children nowadays are being subjected to these kinds of behaviors."
More than one-third of the nonfatal abuse occurred in the first week of life, with most involving neglect rather than purposeful physical abuse, according to the analysis of data from the national child abuse system.
Under federal law, states since 1993 have filed with a federal database reports of all abuse cases verified by investigators. The inquiries can be triggered by suspicions raised by medical and social services personnel, law enforcement, teachers or day care providers, parents, relatives, neighbors or friends.
Because the report marked the first attempt to examine abuse among the youngest children, officials said they did not know whether the number is increasing. But they expressed dismay at the magnitude of the problem.
"Child maltreatment is a serious public health problem," Arias said.
For the study, researchers examined data collected in fiscal year 2006 from 44 states plus the District of Columbia through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, which compiles reports from child protective service agencies.
A total of 905,000 children younger than 18 were reported to have been abused that year, including 91,278 who had not yet reached their first birthday, according to the analysis published in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. That's a rate of more than 23 mistreated babies out of every 1,000 of the nearly 4-million infants under age 1 during the period studied.
Of the children abused in the first year of life, more than 84 percent — 35,455 — were less than a month old and of those, more than 84 percent — 29,881 — were less than a week old. Most of the abuse — 68 percent — was considered neglect. "Neglect is officially defined as the failure the meet a child's basic needs," Arias said.
Of the remainder, about 13 percent were traced to clear-cut physical abuse.