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Child abuse among children younger than a year old increasing

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 1st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A national study of child abuse in the U.S. has seen conflicting trends. While there are downward trends in different forms of abuse, there has been a 56 percent increase in the physical abuse of children less than a year old. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Dr. John Leventhal and Julie Gaither, both of Yale University reported that hospitalization for abuse-related injury rose 4.9 percent overall among children 18 and under over the 12-year span from 1997 through 2009. Children were far more likely to die from these injuries before discharge as well, they reported in the November issue of Pediatrics.

However, "these results are in sharp contrast to data from child protective services," the doctors noted. A national reporting system from these agencies indicated a 55 percent decline in substantiated child abuse cases from 1992 through 2009.

Statistics from the National Incidence Studies suggested a 23 percent decline in physical abuse.

While called evidence of "positive changes in the provision of services to children and families, there have been concerns that some of this decrease may be due to changes in reporting of cases to child protective services agencies and changes in which cases get investigated by child protective services and which cases are actually substantiated as physical abuse," Leventhal and Gaither wrote.

"Thus, perhaps all physical abuse is decreasing in the United States, but injuries in very young children have not followed this overall trend," the investigators wrote.

The study used the analysis of the Kids' Inpatient Database, which samples acute care discharges from U.S. hospitals. Statistics tracked serious injury, abuse, certain kinds of assault and perpetrator of abuse codes every 3 years from 1997 through 2009.

The incidence of serious injury linked to abuse during that period rose from 6.1 per 100,000 children ages 18 and under in 1997 to 6.4 per 100,000 in 2009.

Most of that upward trend was accounted for by abuse of the youngest children with serious injury incidence rose 10.9 percent among those less than one year of age.

However, older children actually saw a decrease of 9.1 percent from 3.3 to 3.0 per 100,000 children from 1997 to 2009. Most of the serious abuse-related injuries were fractures, which rose from 40.2 percent in 1997 to a peak of 48.5 percent in 2009.

Injuries to the skin or open wounds also rose to account for 41.6 percent of the injuries in 2009.

Traumatic brain injury accounted for at least a third of the injuries across study periods. Burns, abdominal injuries, and other injuries accounted for about 10 percent each.

"Because there has been no decrease in the incidence of hospitalizations due to serious abuse in children, our results highlight the need to develop prevention programs that can reduce this significant morbidity (and mortality)," the investigators concluded.

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