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Rise in child-abuse cases amid hardship

6th February 2012

Economic hardship during the global economic downturn appears to be linked to rising incidence of child abuse, according to the latest figures from the United States.


According to one study, the beginning of the recession and widespread job losses in 2009 also coincided with a rise in the number of children hospitalised with abusive head trauma.

The figure of 15 per 100,000 children compares with nine per 100,000 children in 2004, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics.

In 2006, almost 4,600 children in the United States admitted to hospital, according to researchers at Yale University, who analysed information from a database of child admissions.

Of those children, 300 died, said the research team, who set out to determine the rate of hospital admissions due to serious physical abuse among the under-18s.

Those at highest risk of going to hospital for reasons linked to child abuse were infants of less than one year.

Their rate of hospitalisation stood at around 58 per 100,000 children in 2006, denoting a higher rate than infants dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

However, many abused children never get taken to hospital, experts say, suggesting that these figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

According to the Yale team, writing in the March issue of Pediatrics, poverty emerged as a clear risk factor for child abuse.

Children from the lowest-income families, who were covered by Medicaid, were six times more likely to be the victims of abuse than children from richer backgrounds.

Walter Lambert, medical director of University of Miami Child Protection Team, said the number of reports to child abuse hotlines had risen since the economic situation had worsened.

He said the severity of injuries had also increased, as well as the rate of abuse-related hospital admissions.

He called for earlier identification of families who may be at risk.

Karel Amaranth, child advocacy expert at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York, said everyone was responsible for speaking out if they knew that a child was being abused.

Anyone who suspected a child was being harmed in some way should phone child abuse hotlines, which exist in every American state, she said.

She said children often had no way to speak out for themselves, and needed someone to do it for them.

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