Flagging Economy Fuels Child Abuse
A recent study done by the researchers at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Policy Lab detected a strong relationship between the rate of child physical abuse and local mortgage foreclosures, seen during the recession.
The study that was published in the Journal Pediatrics, found a significant increase in the number of children admitted to the nation's largest hospitals due to serious abuse over the last decade.
The study was based on the data that was collected from 38 hospitals; contradict national child welfare data, which projects a drop in child physical abuse the same period.
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"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 Joanne Wood, MD, MSHP, an attending physician at CHOP and researcher at PolicyLab. "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."
On conducting the research, the researchers noticed that overall physical abuse increased by 0.79 percent and the traumatic brain injury increased by 3 percent per year between 2000 and 2009 while overall injury rates fell by 0.8 percent per year over the same time period.
It was noticed that 1 percent increase in 90 days 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 due to traumatic brain injury suspected to be child abuse.
"The study highlights opportunities for child welfare agencies and hospitals to collaborate and share data for a more complete picture of child physical abuse rates in communities across the country, in order to develop targeted prevention and intervention," said Dr. Wood. Two major themes emerge from this study are, first, we see 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. Second, the study identifies another economic hardship -- mortgage foreclosures -- that is associated with severe physical 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."
Policy Lab's health services researchers, who contributed to the study, note that the public agencies working with vulnerable children and families are better equipped to assist them when the risk factors linked with increased child physical abuse rates are understood.
David Rubin, MD, MSCE, senior author of the study as well as Director of Policy Lab and an attending pediatrician at CHOP concluded saying, "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. 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."