Research Matters No. 95. Assessing Repeat Child Maltreatment in Alaska
December 15, 2015

Statistics from the federal Children’s Bureau show that the rate of repeat child abuse and neglect in Alaska is among the highest in the country. But a new study by ISER researchers Diwakar Vadapalli and Jessica Passini finds that even those grim numbers may underestimate how many children in Alaska are repeatedly abused or neglected. The study, Repeat Maltreatment in Alaska: Assessment and Exploration of Alternative Measures, was funded by the University of Alaska Foundation, the Alaska Children’s Trust, and First National Bank Alaska. The authors believe the federal numbers could underestimate repeat child maltreatment because they include only cases of maltreatment that happen over a short time—6 or 12 months—and they are based only on substantiated cases, which are cases of reported abuse that the Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) confirms through investigation.

The authors point out that repeated abuse can take place over a number of years, and that only a small percentage of reported abuse is substantiated, in Alaska and other states. So in their study, they looked at maltreatment reported to OCS for nearly a decade, from 2005 through 2013, of children born in or later than 2005. They assessed how many children in that group were repeatedly abused or neglected, using both the cases OCS substantiated and all the cases it investigated.

They argue that even investigations that didn’t confirm neglect or abuse may help measure the prevalence of repeat maltreatment, since OCS does not investigate reports of suspected abuse unless it determines there is adequate basis for investigation. Also, other analyses have found that child protection agencies may receive a number of reports of a given child being neglected or abused, before they are able to substantiate that maltreatment. What did the authors find?

  • Using all investigated cases as a measure of repeat maltreatment shows a considerably higher rate than using just substantiated cases. More than 40% of children in the study group who were subjects of any OCS investigation were investigated more than once, while about 30% of children in substantiated cases were confirmed as victims more than once.
  • Children reported more than once as victims of neglect or abuse account for a very big share of all OCS investigations. More than two-thirds of all OCS investigations of children in the study group were of repeat maltreatment. Also, investigations and substantiations of maltreatment are concentrated among a limited number of children: 40% of children were the subject of 70% of the investigations, and 30% of the children accounted for 50% of substantiated cases.
  • Maltreatment starts very young among children who are repeatedly abused or neglected. More than 40% of children in the study group were first abused or neglected when they were less than a year old. That was true, based on either total investigations or substantiated investigations.
  • Children in the study group who were repeatedly maltreated were just about equally likely to be boys or girls.

Download the report, Repeat Maltreatment in Alaska: Assessment and Exploration of Alternative Measures​.

Diwakar Vadapalli is an assistant professor of public policy at ISER; Jessica Passini is a researcher at ISER. If you have questions, get in touch with ISER at 907-786-7710 or