The economic stressors resulting from the recent economic recession and flurry of delinquent mortgage payments and home foreclosures appear to be associated with increased risk for child abuse, according to research reported today in Pediatrics.
Researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia found that between 2000 and 2009, rates of hospital admissions for physical abuse and high-risk traumatic brain injury (an injury that carries a high suspicion for abuse) increased by 0.79% and 3.1% per year, respectively, while all-cause injury rates declined by 0.80% per year. The abuse and high-risk brain injury admission rates were associated with a community’s current mortgage delinquency rate and with the change in delinquency and foreclosure rates from the previous year. The unemployment rate was not associated with these injuries.
The findings were from a retrospective study of children admitted to 38 hospitals in the Pediatric Health Information System database, which covers most of the nation’s major metropolitan areas. The researchers tracked admissions of children younger than 6 years hospitalized for physical abuse and admissions of infants younger than 12 months for high-risk traumatic brain injury.
The widespread housing crisis affected many, with about 45% of families with children nationwide reporting problems with stable housing, the authors wrote. “These results suggest that housing concerns were a significant source of stress within communities and a harbinger for community maltreatment rates.” The findings also mirrored results from another study linking foreclosure activity in communities to increases in hospital visits for mental health complaints, preventable conditions, and stress-related physical complaints in adults.
The findings raise the question of how best to monitor the safety and well-being of children at a population level and respond to family needs during tough economic times to reduce child abuse risk, the researchers said.