News | Published August 28, 2012

Link between physical abuse of children and economic recession

The Centre Region is certainly on heightened alert for signs of abuse in light of the Sandusky scandal. Abuse is, sadly, always present in society, but unfortunately difficult economic times and the stress that it puts on adults can lead to increased abuse. This phenomenon is explained in an article titled, Serious Cases of Child Abuse Increasing During Recession:

In the largest study to examine the impact of the recession on child abuse, researchers at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's (CHOP) PolicyLab detected a significant increase in children admitted to the nation's largest children's hospitals due to serious physical abuse over the last decade. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found a strong relationship between the rate of child physical abuse and local mortgage foreclosures, which have been a hallmark of the recent recession. The CHOP findings, based on data from 38 children's hospitals, contradict national child welfare data, which show a decline in child physical abuse over the same period.

"We are 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, and 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."

According to the study, overall physical abuse increased by .79%, and traumatic brain injury increased by 3% per year between 2000 and 2009, while overall injury rates fell by .8% per year over the same time period. The researchers found that each 1% in 90-day mortgage delinquencies over a one-year period was associated with a 3% increase in hospital admissions due to child physical abuse and a 5% increase in admissions due to traumatic brain injury suspected to be child abuse.

"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 David Rubin, MD, MSCE, senior author of the study as well as Director of PolicyLab and an attending pediatrician at CHOP. "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."

If you ever have any concerns about abuse with children, I recommend that you call Child Line at 800.932.0313. It is confidential and calling can alert the authorities to possible issues that need to be investigated.