Child Abuse Increase Linked To Housing Crisis

By Amir Khan on July 18, 2012 10:00 AM EDT

Foreclosure
Over the past decade, the number of children admitted to the hospital after suffering physical abuse has increased sharply, and according to a new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, the ongoing recession and housing crisis may be to blame. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Over the past decade, the number of children admitted to the hospital after suffering physical abuse has increased sharply, and according to a new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, the ongoing recession and housing crisis may be to blame.

Researchers found that between 2000 and 2009, hospital admissions for physical abuse hit a peak in 2008, right around the time of the housing market crash. In addition, child abuse increased precipitously in areas where delinquent mortgages and housing foreclosures did as well.

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However, researchers stressed that the study proves a correlation, not a causation, between child abuse and the recession.

"This type of study can't demonstrate causation. It can only show an association," Dr. Joanne Wood, study author and researcher at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told Reuters.

Wood said that foreclosures could put more kids at risk because they signal the "end result" of parent's hard times, for example when they've been out of work for a long time and their benefits and savings have run out.

For each percentage point increase in an area's foreclosure rate, hospital admissions for child abuse increased 6.5 percent the following year.  

And while previous studies have suggest child abuse has been decline, "This suggests that maybe the problem is not getting better," Wood said.

The abuse may not have always come from the parents. Researchers said that when families have to move out of their home, they may move in with someone not used to having children, and that could be where the abuse occurs.

"This study adds to a large body of evidence that economic downturns are bad for families and bad for children," Dr. Kristine A. Campbell, a pediatrician at the University of Utah, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters.

On the bright side, abuse declined in 2009 even though the recession continued.

"There are hints of an improvement," Campbell said. "Wouldn't it be nice if we could show that something we're doing is working?"

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