MONDAY, Oct. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Despite government agency
reports suggesting a decrease in child abuse cases, new data show
that the number of children hospitalized due to serious
abuse-related injuries actually increased slightly from 1997 to
In the new study, researchers analyzed U.S. hospital statistics
from the Kids Inpatient Database. During this 12-year period, the
incidence of serious injuries due to child abuse -- including
fractures and abusive head trauma -- increased by 4.9 percent. By
contrast, child protective service records showed a 55 percent
decrease in child abuse injuries in that time period.
The new findings appear online Oct. 1 and in the November print
Many reasons could account for the apparent disconnect, said
study co-author Dr. John Mishel Leventhal, a professor of
pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine.
For starters, "we were looking at the most serious injuries that
require hospital stays, while others have looked at child abuse
rates overall," he said. There may also have been changes in
reporting and injury coding as well as the criteria for who is
admitted to the hospital.
The new data show that serious abuse-related hospitalizations
are more common in infants under 1 year old and tend to
disproportionately affect families on Medicaid, the U.S. health
program for low-income individuals and families. "Rates of stress
may be high in poorer families, and stress is linked to risk of
abuse," Leventhal said.
"Prevention messages must be clearer, louder and heard in various settings including health care, daycare, parent support groups," he said. To really make a dent in the rates of serious abusive injuries in children, a national awareness and prevention campaign is needed, the researchers suggested.
Many children are injured by people who are not related to them,
Leventhal warned. "Be careful about whom you leave your kids with,
and even if it is embarrassing, say 'Don't hurt my kid when you
take care of them.'" He said he often advises parents to "take
five" when they feel frustrated: "Step back, take a deep breath and
walk out of the room."
The findings point to the challenges of using any one source of
data to track child abuse, said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of
developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra
Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, in New Hyde Park.
"These are all preventable injuries, and the canary in the coal mine," Adesman said. "Abuse is a signal that there are problems in the household or parenting that can't be ignored. We need to do better in terms of prevention and earlier intervention in these homes."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers advice
preventing child abuse and neglect.
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