Study links rise in child abuse, foreclosures

Jul 17, 2012, 3:45 PM | Updated: 3:45 pm

The recession has taken a harsh toll on some of the
nation’s youngest citizens, with increases in child abuse
severe enough to require hospitalization occurring in
tandem with a rise in local mortgage foreclosures,
according to a new study
involving data from 38 children’s hospitals.

Researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
noted a strong relationship between the abuse and mortgage
woes in a study published online this week in the journal
Pediatrics. It will appear in the
August print edition.

“We were concerned that health care providers and child
welfare workers anecdotally reported seeing more severe
child physical abuse cases, yet national child protective
services data indicated a downward trend,” said lead
author Dr. Joanne Wood, an attending physician at the
children’s hospital and researcher at PolicyLab, in a
written statement accompanying the study.
“It’s well-known that economic stress has been linked to
an increase in child physical abuse, so we wanted to get
to the bottom of the contrasting reports by formally
studying hospital data on a larger scale.”

Physical abuse overall rose by .79 percent, while
traumatic brain injury rose 3 percent a year between 2000
and 2009, according to the study. Overall injury rates
fell by .8 percent a year over the same time period.
According to the research, each 1-percent increase in 90-
day mortgage delinquencies over a one-year period was
associated with a 3-percent increase in hospital
admissions due to child physical abuse and a 5-percent
increase in admissions because of traumatic brain injuries
believed to result from child abuse.

Neither abuse nor high-risk traumatic brain injuries were
associated with unemployment, the study said.

In study background information, the researchers pointed
out that child abuse had been trending downward in the
1990s and early in the 2000s. It suggested that positive
trend was quite likely driven by a healthy economy. When
the recession hit, the trend reversed.

It’s not the only study to make that suggestion. According
to Serena Gordon of
HealthDay: “Other recent research, however, has suggested
that the rates of child abuse are rising. One study
published in the October 2011 issue of Pediatrics found
that the rates of abusive head trauma in children went
from nine per 100,000 children to 15 per 100,000 children
between 2004 and 2009. A second study, presented at the
American Association of Neurological Surgeons meeting in
April 2011, found that the rates of abusive head trauma
during the recession had doubled in children 2 years old
and younger.”

Wood said the new study points to a “clear opportunity to
use hospital data along with child welfare data to ensure
a more complete picture of child abuse rates both locally
and nationally.” And it identifies mortgage foreclosures
as another economic woe linked to child abuse.

“As the foreclosure crisis is projected to continue in the
near future, these results highlight the need to better
understand the stress that housing insecurity places on
families and communities so that we can better support
them during difficult times,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has long
said that children who are abused
are more likely to require safety-net programs. “The
social and economic costs of child abuse and neglect are
difficult to calculate. Some costs are straightforward and
directly related to maltreatment, such as hospital costs
for medical treatment of injuries sustained as a result of
physical abuse and foster-care costs resulting from the
removal of children when they cannot remain safely with
their families. Other costs, less directly tied to the
incidence of abuse, include lower academic achievement,
adult criminality and lifelong mental health problems.
Both direct and indirect costs impact our society and

This study follows on earlier research in 2010 by the University of
Pittsburgh School of Medicine that found abuse-caused head
traumas in infants and young children increased steeply
since the start of the recession.

“A study like this cannot tell us what stressors may be
impacting an individual family, but can illustrate the
toll that the recent recession may be having on families
in general in this country,” said Dr. David Rubin, a
senior author of the new study, in a written statement.
“It is a reminder to me that when I see families in my
practice who have lost their insurance or who have changed
homes, to probe a little further about the challenges they
are facing. As communities, we all need to reach out a
little more to identify which families may be in crisis
and help guide them to appropriate resources for support.”

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Study links rise in child abuse, foreclosures