Fifty-two children suffering from abuse-related scald burns were admitted between January 1, 1986, and June 30, 1991. Their clinical and socioeconomic aspects were compared with those of 50 nonabused scalded children. Patients were matched for age, total body surface area burn, and percentage of full-thickness burn. Patient characteristics and initial nutritional parameters were similar except for race; a higher percentage of black children were in the abused group. A significantly longer length of hospital stay was found in the abused children after using analyses of covariance to control for percentages of total and full-thickness body surface area burn. The number of operations and frequency of complications were increased in the abused group, but not significantly so. Several significant differences were found in the socioeconomic characteristics of the two groups. Children suspected of being scalded intentionally were more likely to be part of a broken home, belong to a single parent, and have a younger mother than were children in the control group. The majority of the parents of abused children were unemployed, and all but two earned less than $20,000/year. All but one of the abused children were discharged with a person other than their parents, and compliance with rehabilitation follow-up was significantly worse than with the control group. The person suspected of performing the abuse was always a family member, except in cases where the baby-sitter was the suspected abuser. Child abuse hurts not only the child but also society by increasing the need for resources to pay for extended hospital admissions. Improved support for broken homes and lower-income families might lessen the problem of child abuse.