Is Child Abuse Increasing or Decreasing?

First the good news; according to reports out of the child protective services there has been a fifty percent reduction in cases of physical child abuse. Then the bad news; Researchers at Yale have analysed hospital admission records, from ‘97 to 2009 and found a slight increase in the number of serious child physical abuse cases treated in the nation’s emergency rooms.

How can the stark contrast in reported outcomes be explained. Is it simply the different perspective of the different researchers or is something more at play here?

The Yale study data was only the preliminary results from a report that will be published in full in the November edition of the journal ‘Paediatrics’. It does not make for comfortable reading. Cases of serious physical abuse in the new generation of Americans increased by five percent in the twelve years before ‘09. Abuse means injuries if all kinds including head, burns and broken bones. So on the one hand more than 50% fewer child abuse cases yet on the other hand a 5% increase.

The researchers at Yale feel that the child protection services statistics may be better explained by changes to the reporting methods, rather than a significant shift in child rearing patterns. When comparing the two databases it is also important to remember that the child protection one counts ALL cases of reported abuse while the Yale study only record serious cases.

For the authors of the Yale report the scary new high figures, “highlight the challenges of helping parents do better by their children and the importance of effective prevention programs to reduce serious abusive injuries in young children”.

Child abuse in American society is a complex and largely hidden issue. There cannot be just one source of information and data. As part of the Yale study, information was gathered from KID or the kids inpatient database. This source of information extracts data from the discharge reports of all American hospitals.

The criterion the study selected was ‘serious’ injury arising from situations of child abuse in the twelve years from 1997. KID codes the cases of child injury according to the location on the body of the worst injuries. A different code for the head, for fractures, for burns, for abdominal injuries and so on.

The database was further analysed for the age of the children, sex, race and economic status in terms of health insurance coverage. The seriousness of injuries was reflected in the length of stay in hospital and of course whether the children died as result of the abuse. It all adds up to primary historical evidence of the worst crimes in American society and the undeniable bad news is that there is a genuine 4.9 percent increase in these cases.

[box type=”note”]For every serious injury there will be 10 lesser ones and for every less serious injury there will be 10 minor injuries. Like an iceberg the vast majority of incidents are not visible. It really makes a nonsense of the apparent good news from the child abuse services.[/box]

Claire Al-Aufi

Claire Al-Aufi is a contributing author for Hive Health Media who provides updates on health and fitness news.

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