Child abuse increased during the recession, study says

A study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics shows that cases of child abuse among children under age five increased significantly during the recession.

Dr. Rachel P. Berger, a child abuse expert at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and her research team tracked cases of abusive head trauma among infants brought to hospitals in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington from 2004 to 2009. Some 422 children, average age nine months, were diagnosed with injuries that fell into the abusive head trauma category, like shaken baby syndrome. Sixteen percent died of their injuries.

In the three years leading up to the financial meltdown in December 2007, the researchers found, the rate of abusive head injuries was 8.9 per year per 100,000 children. After the crash, the rate was 14.7 per 100,000 – a 65 percent increase.

“If what we are seeing is even close to generalizable, that is a lot of excess children,” Berger told Reuters.

Mark Rank, a social welfare professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told The Associated Press that the study echoes sociological research linking violence with job loss and wage cuts. It’s "a sort of toxic brew in terms of thinking about possible physical violence," he said.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

The researchers did not find any correlation between unemployment rates in the counties and abusive head trauma. They speculated that this might be because official unemployment figures exclude people who are underemployed, people who are discouraged in their job searches and others who might be under economic pressure.

"Although it is not possible to prove a causal relationship between the AHT rate and the economy with our analysis, we believe the data are compelling enough to influence policy and clinical decisions," the researchers wrote.

Berger told Reuters that one explanation for the uptick could be that cuts in daycare, loss of childcare benefits or other financial issues forced mothers to leave their children with people who don’t usually take care of them – like fathers or male caretakers. “The number one perpetrators are fathers and male caretakers,” she said. “Very few perpetrators are mothers. It’s the people that mothers give their kids to that end up being the perpetrator.”