• No news is bad news: The persistence of child abuse in the US

    In 2006, the United States had the highest rate of child deaths due to negligence, maltreatment, or physical assault among 17 peer developed countries. The rate of child death due to maltreatment in the US was more than three times higher than the rate in Canada and more than four times the rate in France.

    What’s even worse is that we are making no appreciable progress on reducing child abuse.

    Karen Farst and her colleagues present data on the trend in hospitalizations resulting from child abuse in children aged 0-3 years.

    Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 12.27.44 PM

    The top graph shows that the rates of hospitalizations for injuries have been stable. The bottom graph shows that the severity of the injuries (ISS = “Injury Severity Score”, a standard measure of trauma) has been increasing.

    The graphs report the battering of thousands of infants and toddlers. Why isn’t this one of the scandals that animate our news culture? Is it just too shameful to talk about?


    • I found this disturbing as well.

      I thought it a bit odd that public insurance or no insurance is clearly associated with increased risk, whereas living in a low-income zipcode is not (the OR is 1.00 compared to living in a high-income zipcode). Either way, I think it is pretty likely that low household socioeconomic status is associated with a higher risk of abuse.

      And bringing the discussion one level up, our level of income inequality has increased over time. I bet you low SES either directly or indirectly causes child abuse. So, while disturbing, this paper is not surprising to me.

      • Weiwen,
        Poverty is certainly associated with abuse. But I am hesitant to say that low SES *causes* child abuse, unless you are using “low SES” to mean poverty. I have substantially less social status than the president of my university or the premier of my province, but I don’t think that I am more likely to abuse a child than either of those gentlemen.

        • In sociology, the definition I learned for SES does encompass combination of income, education and occupation. For occupations, I don’t think researchers in this context make distinctions above a certain level (so researcher, university president and POTUS would probably be in the same category). But really, just income would be an acceptable definition as well.


    • We are now producing a generation of parents who expierenced poor parenting first hand and have had no role models for effective to emulate. We know what works,, small focused programs that involve many person hours and of course money. Our society is not willing to provide either one. These numbers are only going to get worse.

      • David,
        I wonder about the long term historical trends in child abuse. Although I think current rates are shockingly high, my expectation is that they would have been higher in previous generations.

        I do agree that there are programs that could help and that they deserve much better funding.

        • You don’t have to look back into history – HuffPo June 19 2013. “Children have been removed from an orthodox Mennonite community in southern Manitoba, where more adults have been charged with assaulting youngsters using items such as cattle prods and leather straps.

          The orthodox Mennonite community is one of many that eschew modern amenities such as electricity and automobiles and adhere to Biblical teachings.” http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/19/mennonite-child-abuse_n_3468480.html

    • The way in which the US stands out alone for extraordinarily high rates of abuse relative to other developed countries (see graph here: resembles several other health-related trends in the united states, such as healthcare spending, violent crime, teen pregnancy, and even HIV infections–all of which are things for which the incidence is massively higher here than other advanced countries.

      It all makes me wonder whether there isn’t some common cause, like elevated lead levels impairing neurological decision-making ability.

    • Wow, I was not aware of the degree of this problem. Man, we need to get the word out and do something. Not sure how you address this problem or what the root causes of this problem. Do we as people just lack any degree of self control and/or conscience on these matters?