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Recession Linked to Increase in Abusive Head Trauma

Tuesday, September 20, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Taylor Stockdell
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Washington Memorandum, by Tom Birch, National Child Abuse Coalition

September 19, 2011

The recent recession and bad economy have been linked to an increase in child abuse, especially in abusive head trauma to infants, according to research published online today in Pediatrics. The five-year study, which set out to evaluate the rate of abusive head trauma (AHT) in three regions of the United States before and during an economic recession, looked at child abuse in 74 counties in four states confirming anecdotal reports from pediatricians in the last three or four years who have reported seeing a growing number of shaken baby syndrome and other forms of abusive head trauma.

The study's authors, Dr. Rachel P. Berger of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and her colleagues, chose to focus on abuse head trauma after noting an increase at the Pittsburgh hospital from late 2007 through June 2009 which averaged 30 cases a year during those recession years versus 17 yearly before 2007. The number of cases in the 74 counties studied rose by 65 percent from about 9 cases per 100,000 children in pre-recession years to almost 15 per 100,000 during the recession.

The children studied were younger than 5, and most were infants. Most suffered brain damage and 69 of them died, though the death rate of those cases studied did not rise during the recession. Although the study did not report on health insurance and family employment information for the abused children in the study, the report noted that unemployment rates in the 74 counties rose during the study, and the proportion of children on Medicaid in those counties – another indication of economic risk -- also increased, from 77 percent before the recession to 83 percent.

The report's authors concluded that the research findings are "consistent with our understanding of the effect of stress on violence. Given the high morbidity and mortality rates for children with AHT, these results are concerning and suggest that prevention efforts might need to be increased significantly during times of economic hardship.”

The counties studied included Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania; central and southern Ohio; and a handful of counties in northern Kentucky and in the Seattle area. Of the 422 children diagnosed with abusive head trauma during the study, roughly 65 cases occurred each year before the recession, versus about 108 yearly during the recession.

Although recent federal government data on child maltreatment suggest that the recession did not affect child abuse rates, the study's authors point out that those numbers are based on reports from child protective services, not medical diagnoses, and did not address brain injuries specifically.


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