Child abuse on the rise, study shows

According to a recent study, child abuse is on the rise.

Yale School of Medicine professor of pediatrics John Leventhal and Julie Gaither GRD ’14 have determined that cases of child abuse may have increased in the past decade. The results of their study, which was published in the November issue of the journal “Pediatrics,” show a 4.9 percent escalation in child abuse cases from 1997 to 2009.

These results conflict with the data from an earlier study conducted by University of New Hampshire sociology professor David Finkelhor, which indicated a 55 percent decrease in instances of physical abuse of children in the United States from 1992 to 2009.

Alice Forrester, executive director of the Clifford W. Beers Clinic child and family advocacy center, said she was “not surprised” by Leventhal’s results. Given the current state of the economy, Forrester said, many families face economic pressures, which can lead to yelling and domestic violence.

The studies completed by Leventhal and Finkelhor differ in several ways, most notably in their data collection techniques. Finkelhor considered “substantiated cases of physical abuse” ­— cases which have undergone legal review by a child protective services commissioner and are registered in the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect data system — while Leventhal scrutinized reports from the Kids’ Inpatient Database.

Leventhal said he considered all cases of children hospitalized for severe injuries caused by physical abuse and did not limit himself solely to cases that had gone through an official legal process. Leventhal said he chose this method because he and his colleagues nationwide “were seeing the contrary” of Finkelhor’s earlier results.

This contradiction, he said, could be attributed to the increased difficulty of substantiating physical abuse cases over the years. Leventhal added that an increase in the number of hospitalizations for minor injuries caused by physical abuse could also play a role in the overall increase in child abuse cases.

Regardless, Leventhal’s study stresses that child abuse remains a prevalent issue in society today. He added that 54 percent of the hospitalizations studied were for children under the age of one and that the prevalence of abuse should provoke national consideration of injury prevention for young children.

Janna Wagner, co-founder of the New Haven early childhood education foundation All Our Kin, said early childhood programs may present a solution.

“If [these programs] builds reciprocal and responsive relationships with families, they can support families in crisis and, ideally, are able to recognize signs of abuse and neglect while also supporting positive parenting strategies.”

A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds, according to ChildHelp.

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