Child Abuse Hospitalizations Too High

Babies and poor children most likely to suffer abuse requiring hospital care

(RxWiki News) The number of children hospitalized for abuse injuries in a single year is a wake-up call that parents feeling high levels of stress should seek help before the pressure overtakes them.

A  study to be published in the March 2012 issue of Pediatrics  revealed that over 4,500 children came in with injuries coded as "abuse," and 300 of these children did not survive their injuries.

"Seek counseling if you're hitting or hurting your child."

Dr. John Leventhal, medical director of the Child Abuse and Child Abuse Prevention Programs at Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital, led the study using data from the 2006 Kids' Inpatient Database.

Infants under age one were at the highest risk for hospitalization for abuse, at a rate of approximately 58 babies per 100,000 children overall.

"Child abuse is generally the result of exhausted coping skills or the inability to manage our personal emotions," said LuAnn Pierce, LCSW a personal therapist in a private practice.

"Most people who abuse their children don't wake up one morning thinking of ways to hurt their children. Those people who are overwhelmed by the stress of daily life are most at risk to harm children," she said.

Hospitals code child admissions as "abuse" if they determine the injuries were caused by child abuse. Leventhal and his colleagues used this code to identify cases of serious abuse in their study.

Children with suspicious injuries later deemed not from abuse were not included in the study's statistics.

"These numbers are higher than the rate of sudden infant death syndrome (about 50, per 100,000 births), which is alarming," Leventhal said.

His team calculated that the cost of these hospitalizations is about $73.8 million in a year.

The study also revealed that six times as many children covered by Medicaid were admitted for child abuse than kids not on Medicaid.

"This speaks to the importance of poverty as a risk factor for serious abuse," Leventhal said.

However, Pierce points out that people of all socioeconomic backgrounds are at risk for abusing or neglecting another person in the home if they have high levels of stress, lack support in the home or have a child with special needs.

Other risk factors she mentioned include an adult who is physically or mentally ill or who is dealing with hormonal imbalances or sleep deprivation, a major challenge especially for new parents.

"New parents who are concerned about their levels of stress, lack of support or coping ability should plan before the baby is born for how to manage these problems," Pierce said.

"At-risk families can work with a social worker, therapist, chaplain, nurse or doctor to develop a safety plan, such as what to do when you can't get the baby to stop crying and you can't figure out how to calm the baby or yourself," she said. Include in the plan phone numbers of people who can help when the parent or caregiver needs help.

First and foremost, Pierce said people should recognize that prevention is the most important factor way to stop child abuse.

"It's important to overcome any shame or embarrassment about admitting that you are concerned that you could hurt your child," she said.

"Most public health offices have people who will come to your home after birth on a regular basis to offer hands-on support. Ask your medical provider for details," she added. 

Leventhal's study was funded by the Yale School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics

The Kids' Inpatient Database is part of the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. No information regarding authors' conflicts of interest were available.

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Review Date: 
February 5, 2012
Last Updated:
February 7, 2012