Infants at greatest risk for child abuse
February 6th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Infants at greatest risk for child abuse

Nearly 7% of abused children, who end up in the hospital die because of the abuse. And the children at greatest risk for suffering from serious physical abuse? Infants under the age of one.

A new study released today, in the journal Pediatrics, surveyed nearly 4,000, or almost 89%, of hospitals across the nation to get a sense of just how many children suffered from serious injuries due to physical abuse. This was the first national study to really look at serious injuries due to abuse.

The study looked at the 2006 Kids Inpatient Database from the Department of Health and Human Services, that tracked patients under the age of 18, and the reasons for hospitalization. The authors found that nearly 4,600 children went to the hospital that year because of abuse, which was determined by the attending physician. Doctors used the International Classification of Disease to qualify abuse. Symptoms that counted as abuse included shaken infant syndrome, fractures, traumatic brain injuries, abdominal injuries, burns, and open wounds.

The study found that for every 100,000 children, 6 were seriously abused. For children under one, the likelihood increased by more than 8 times. So, for every 100,000 infants, 58 came into hospital to be treated because of physical abuse. This is higher than the rate of infants impacted by Sudden Infant Death syndrome - 50 infant deaths for every 100,000.

Infants covered by Medicaid, were at greatest risk ,with every one in 752 infants being seriously abused.

Overall, children on Medicaid were about 6 times more likely to be abused over children not covered by Medicaid.

According to Karel Amaranth, executive director of the J.E.&Z.B. Butler Child Advocacy Center with the Children's Hospital at Montefiore, there is a strong association between poverty and child abuse. She points out to stresses such as “stressful economic situations and lack of support for young mothers,” as some of the factors facing those who are impoverished. However, she was quick to note that sometimes it is easier for those in higher economic situations to also hide abuse.

According to the study, abused children stayed in the hospital nearly twice as long as non-abused children. And their hospital costs reflected that. On average, hospital costs for abused children were around $16,000 or adding up to $74 million dollars annually.

But, both Amaranth and the study’s authors caution that these numbers may be underreported as their study only looked at children who were hospitalized. The study did not account for children who were never hospitalized or died before getting treatment.

At the J.E. & Z.B. Butler Child Advocacy Center, Amaranth says “we see over 1,000 children a year, who come to the clinic, many of them never go to the hospital.” The study estimated that only 1.5% of all abused children actually go to the hospital for treatment.

But there is still value in these numbers, and Amaranth hopes that they grab people’s attention. “I think it’s so valuable when studies come out, because it causes people to question and relate to the numbers. It gives us a snapshot of what’s going on. But no one should feel that this is the definitive idea of what child abuse is.”

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