Why Are More Children Being Hospitalized For Abuse?

Cases of physical abuse of children declined by 55 percent from 1992 through 2009, according to national data from child protective services in the U.S. — but a just-published study in Pediatrics offers a very different story. John Leventhal, MD, and Julie Gaither, RN, MPH, MPhil, of Yale University found that, from 1997 through 2009, hospitalization for physical abuse-related injuries among children 18 and under rose overall by 4.9 percent.

New Study Looked At Data From Hospital Discharges

As Leventhal and Gaither point out, “no study has tracked the occurrence of serious injuries due to physical abuse.” Rather than using data from child protective agencies, they analyzed data about the actual physical injuries suffered by children, drawing on data from the Kids’ Inpatient Database, which provides a sample of discharges from hospitals in the U.S.

Besides finding that hospitalizations due to child abuse have increased, Leventhal and Gaither learned that children who had been hospitalized were more likely to die. Plus, the greatest increase (10.9 percent) in serious injuries was to babies; 54 precent of the hospitalizations were for children under the age of one year old.

The type of injuries suffered by children who had been hospitalized were mostly fractures, followed by open wounds or skin injuries, traumatic brain injury (these accounted for at least one-third of the injuries), burns, abdominal injuries and other injuries.

Is Child Abuse Decreasing or Increasing?

According to ABC News, another “more extensive” report, the Congress-mandated National Incidence Studies, suggested that there has been a 23 percent decline in physical abuse.  Are these and the child protective services data completely off the mark, or are the Yale researchers?

These contradictory findings reveal that the previously reported decline in abuse “may be due to differences in reporting, rather than a true reduction in abuse-related injuries,” says Time magazine. For instance, child protective agencies take all physical abuse into account in their reports, while the Yale researchers were specifically considering injuries so severe that they had required hospitalization.

One conclusion that can be drawn thanks to the new Pediatrics study is that we need to look at numerous types of data to get an accurate picture about child abuse and whether it is declining or not. Leventhal and Gaither also found that serious injuries related to physical abuse had dramatically increased among children on Medicaid, rising from 59 to 74 percent. As they write, “that three-quarters of the abused children in 2009 were on Medicaid highlights the importance of poverty as a stressor for families and suggests that funding from Medicaid might target the prevention of these serious injuries.”

In addition, the disparities between the new Pediatrics study and earlier findings are a reminder about how difficult it can be to get truly accurate data about child abuse and how often it occurs. The data from the child protective agencies and from the hospitals about children who had been abused and discharged are from reported instances of abuse. But we need to keep in mind whether there might be cases that are not detected and therefore not reported, perhaps because the abuse has occurred in a family in which people “would never think” that such could occur.

Such thinking, it can be argued, was one reason that the sexual abuse that former Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky inflicted for years on at least ten young individuals while no one — no one who would be listened to, that is– said anything. Abuse of any sort, physical or sexual, can leave a child with lifelong psychic scars that remain long, long after bruises and bones have healed. We should do everything we can to detect and prevent abuse, certainly before a child has to be hospitalized for brutal, in some cases life-threatening, injuries.

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Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

who gives a rats ass if it is increasing or decreasing?!? what matters is that it should not exist at all! the money for these studies should be used to educate, protect and help. I was in foster care. I was abused in my bio family in different ways, then faced some further abuse in foster families. THAT SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. but it happens every day. We didn't have christmas like other kids. we didn't have story times, or toys, or friends. All we had was our issues and we were at the mercy of the system. FIX THE SYSTEM. help these kids. period

James Crowley
James Crowley5 years ago

Because our Nation as lost it's way. People have turn their back on GOD. This is leading to all things turning evil....this is easy to see. If we would turn back to GOD these things would change. Without GOD things are only going to get worst. America it's up to you !!! His grace saves, everything else fails....!!!

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N5 years ago


They're lied to by Republican/industry-owned/controlled media and politicians lining up to kick them when they're down, disparage them for being poor, trying to take what little they have away - yet trying to redirect their anger and frustration at each other, rather than the industrial authors of policies and the callousness and greed that drives them, which have brought so many Americans and their country to such a pass.

What food and drink they have is loaded with toxins and depleted of nourishment, adding to fatigue and illness, making them even less well able to cope, making them less well able to think clearly, making them more irritable/explosive.

It's not surprising if child abuse increases and intensifies.

It just makes it so much sadder...

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N5 years ago

People are more likely to snap under high levels of sustained stress.


Fri Jul 20, 2012

Between 1989 and 2010, the top 1 percent of the population went from holding 30.1 percent of the wealth to 34.5 percent, while the bottom 50 percent went from having 3 percent of the wealth to having just 1.1 percent. That's right: In 2010, 50 percent of Americans had 1.1 percent of the total net worth (PDF), according to the Congressional Research Service. The share of wealth held by the next 40 percent of people, up to the 90th percentile, had also dropped, from 29.9 percent to 24.3 percent. Put another way (and it's stunning however you look at it), 10 percent of people have 74.5 percent of the wealth. ...

Many Americans are trying to manage on next to nothing, or less, one extra cost away from homelessness, one illness away from bankruptcy.

Their rights have been whittled away, their pleasures denigrated, their hopes trampled and withered.

Their employers often hold them in contempt, perhaps even to the point of making them pee in a cup on demand.

Their pay continues to effectively shrink in relation to what they can buy - what they need.

They're lied to by Republican media and politicians lining up to kick them when they're down, trying to take what little they have away - yet trying to redirect their anger and frustration at each

nancy b.
Nancy B5 years ago

thanks for the article

Arild Warud

So true.

Michael G.
Michael T5 years ago

Thanks Joseph

Liliana G.
Liliana Garcia5 years ago

To the list offered by Josep b. (which is quite comprehensive) I would add the limits imposed by restricted and small spaces shared by either too many people or people too mismatched in terms of developmental needs, particularly bedrooms. This is compounded by the fact that the media selected by one or more family members intrudes throughout the entire household if the structure is too small. I for one, put more trust in hospital reports than in the state protective agencies reports. These agencies could be more biased, poorly staffed and much more under political pressure.

Lola B.
Lola Barello5 years ago

Joseph B, your answer was great!!

Lola B.
Lola Barello5 years ago

These same people that r abusing their kids r the same people oblivious to birth control, and do not believe in abortion. They would much rather keep their 'good reputation' and beat or starve the child to death!