By Sarah Whites-Koditschek

A family secret of child abuse is revealed.

The number of child maltreatment reports in Alabama falls far below the national average, according to a new report, which also found that those reports are more likely to involve physical abuse than neglect.

Child Trends, a research group based in Washington D.C., collected child abuse statistics and found that, when accounting for population, Alabama lags the nation in the number of cases reported. The report says that in Alabama there were 23.3 referrals of child abuse and neglect for every 1,000 kids in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available. That’s far below the national average of 45.2 referrals per 1,000 kids during the same year.

Report co-author Rachel Rosenberg said that it is not clear why Alabama reported fewer child abuse cases, but it may have to do with state policies around who is required to report abuse.

“Alabama is not a universal mandated reporting state, meaning that not all adults are mandated to report suspected child maltreatment, it is limited to a select group of professionals,” she said.

At the same time, Alabama substantiated more of its child abuse reports than the national average, meaning that when reports of abuse were called in, they were more likely to prove to be real once investigated, according to the data. In Alabama 31 percent of investigations into reported abuse found maltreatment compared to the national average of 18 percent.

The group also found that while just 16 percent of cases nationwide were reported as physical abuse, that figure was much higher in Alabama, with 52 percent of reports involving physical abuse, as opposed to neglect. In Alabama, 43 percent of reported abuse was classified as neglect, compared to 76 percent nationwide.

Rosenberg said that states with higher poverty rates typically have higher rates of reported neglectful abuse because conditions of poverty are more likely to lead to perceived neglect or neglect. However Alabama appears to be an outlier.

According to the data, Alabama’s rate of first-time victim reporting, cases of kids who have not been reported as experiencing abuse before, is higher than the national average at 8.5 per 1,000 children compared to 5.6.

The rate of maltreatment fatalities is slightly higher than the national average at 3.2 per 1,000 children compared to the national average of 2.4 per 1,000 children.

About 61 percent of reports of maltreatment were made for white children, who make up about 57 percent of the child population in Alabama. Maltreatment reported for Black children made up 30 percent of the total reports, a figure that parallels the state’s population of Black children, which is 29 percent.

In Alabama, 58 percent of victims who reported abuse got services from the state afterwards, matching the national average. In Alabama, 3 percent of maltreatment reports led to children being flagged as non-victims who still need support. That figure also matches the national average.

“The number of victims who receive those (services) is on par with the United States which is an encouraging finding,” said Rosenberg.