How valuable are our children? Not just the children living under our collective roofs. As a society, how do we express the value children hold for us? A new study indicates that the rates of maltreatment of children in the United States are much higher than have been previously reported. Not my kids. Not my problem. But it is our collective, societal problem and the costs are significant. For us. For our kids.

Maltreatment and children in the United States, what do you know? T or F?

1. Childhood maltreatment leads to poorer health in adulthood.

2. White children have the highest rates of maltreatment.

3. About 5 percent of children are victims of maltreatment.

What is “maltreatment?” In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers defined maltreatment as physical, mental or emotional abuse. They delved into the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System Child File for years 2004-2011 to gain information about the prevalence of childhood maltreatment and came to some chilling conclusions.

One in eight children in the United States are victims of maltreatment. This is about 12.5 percent of all children, 13 percent females and 12 percent males. Overall the victims cut across ZIP codes and socioeconomic strata. Blacks have the highest rates with 20.9 percent followed by Native Americans (14.5 percent), Hispanics (13 percent), Whites (10.7 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islanders (3.8 percent). The highest rates of maltreatment occur in the first 5 years of life, about 1.2 percent by age 1 and 5.8 percent by age 5.

What do the numbers mean for the individuals and for society? Those with a history of maltreatment have increased rates of mental health problems. They are 5 times more likely to commit suicide and 50 percent more likely to have a juvenile record. Adults who were victims of childhood maltreatment have much higher rates of posttraumatic stress disorder. They also have higher rates of HIV, obesity and overall mortality than their peers. Childhood maltreatment costs the United States $124 billion annually. This staggering amount is more than we spend on diabetes or stroke.

How do we as individuals and collectively as a society measure the value of our children? One indicator can be found in the numbers provided in this report. Another is how we respond to such a report. Behind every number is a child, a person trying to learn and grow and find his or her way in the world. How do we protect them from maltreatment? How do we better support teachers, counselors and social workers on the front lines of this public health epidemic? How do we protect the most precious among us?

We can start by speaking up and speaking against. To report child abuse or neglect call the Missouri Department of Social Services Children's Division at 1-800-392-3738. If you are not sure it's abuse or neglect and want to discuss your concerns, contact the local office at 816-325-6040. The office is located at 201 E. Partridge St., Independence, Missouri 64055. If you think, “Maybe I should call… DO! If you see something, say something.

Answers: 1. T; 2. F; 3. F.

Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at