Financial Strain & Child Abuse

Physical abuse and head injury rates higher in tougher financial times

(RxWiki News) A risk factor for child abuse may include financial stress. More specifically, home foreclosure and mortgage delinquency rates were linked to greater risk for child abuse.

A recent study looked at 38 hospitals compared to financial statistics in the same towns.

While unemployment rates did not appear to raise the risk for child abuse, home loss did increase the likelihood for physical abuse and traumatic brain injury.

"Report child abuse to 911 immediately."

Joanne Wood, MD, MSHP, researcher at the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where she is also an attending physician, led an investigation to determine if financial strain affects the rates of child abuse.

Researchers looked at the Pediatric Hospital Information system database for 38 hospitals from 2000-2009.

For the abuse data, they looked at physical abuse in children under the age of six, traumatic brain injury (TBI) in infants under the age of one and “all-cause injuries”.

For financial data, they gathered information on rates of unemployment, mortgage delinquency and foreclosures in the metropolitan areas for each hospital.

The results showed that physical abuse and TBI rates increased by 1-3 percent per year compared to delinquent and foreclosure mortgage rates.

There was no link found between unemployment rates and physical abuse or TBI.

Dr. Wood said, “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.”

“Two major themes emerge from this study. First, we see a clear opportunity to use hospital data along with child welfare data to ensure a more complete picture of child abuse rates both locally and nationally.”

“Second, the study identifies another economic hardship – mortgage foreclosures – that is associated with severe physical abuse.”

Dr. Wood suggested that this information could help public services to better support people stressed by losing their homes in tough financial times.

“For example, early prevention efforts could start with a pediatrician or housing counselor providing resources and social services referrals for families.”

This study was published in July in Pediatrics. No financial information was given and not conflicts of interest were found.

Review Date: 
July 22, 2012