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Child Abuse Injuries, Hospitalizations on the Rise, Study Says

Serious child abuse injuries are on the rise, says a new study published today in the journal Pediatrics. Hospitalizations from child abuse have increased, children were more likely to die before discharge from the hospital, and abuse injuries to babies rose the most, said study authors. The directly contrasts with data from child protection agencies, which says that child abuse has decreased.

The study authors attributed the difference to changes in reporting, not actual improvement.

According to study authors John Leventhal, MD, and Julie Gaither, RN, MPH, MPhil, of Yale University, hospitalization for abuse-related injury rose 4.9 percent overall among children 18 and under over the 12-year span from 1997 through 2009.

“These results are in sharp contrast to data from child protective services,” they noted. According to the study’s background information, a national reporting system from child protection agencies indicated a 55 percent decline in substantiated child abuse cases from 1992 through 2009.

A second, extensive report by the Congress-mandated National Incidence Studies suggested a 23 percent decline in physical abuse, reports ABC News.

Instead of looking at the child protection agencies’ data, the study authors looked at the Kids’ Inpatient Database, a sample of discharges from hospitals in the United States. That database uses codes to track diagnosis and external cause of injury. Cases of serious physical abuse (such as abusive head injury) were identified by using injury codes and codes for abuse.

The findings “highlight the challenge of using a single source of data to track a complex problem such as child physical abuse,” the study authors wrote.

More facts from the study:

  • 54% of the hospitalizations were in children under the age of one.
  • Serious injury incidence rose 10.9 percent among those under 1 year of age.
  • In older children, however, a decrease of 9.1 percent was found.
  • Most of the serious abuse-related injuries were fractures, which rose from 40.2% in 1997 to a peak of 48.5% in 2009.
  • Injuries to the skin or open wounds also rose to account for 41.6% of the injuries in 2009.
  • Traumatic brain injury accounted for at least a third of the injuries across study periods. Burns, abdominal injuries, and other injuries accounted for about 10% each.
  • While the duration of hospitalizations for severe injury due to child abuse didn’t change over the 12-year period, in-hospital death due to abusive injuries rose from 0.25 to 0.36 per 100,000 children.

(Photo Credit: Sura Nualpradid)

Read more from Joslyn at Babble Pets and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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