The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's (CHOP) PolicyLab is claiming there is a link between the rising number of child abuse reports and the ongoing housing crisis.
In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, CHOP PolicyLab researchers say they detected a ‘strong relationship’ between the rate of reported child abuse and local mortgage foreclosures. The CHOP findings, based on data from 38 children's hospitals, contradict national child welfare data that shows a decline in child physical abuse over the same period.
According to the study, overall physical abuse increased by 0.79% and traumatic brain injury increased by 3% per year between 2000 and 2009, while overall injury rates fell by 0.8% per year over the same time period. The researchers found that each 1% increase in 90-day mortgage delinquencies over a one-year period was associated with a 3% increase in hospital admissions due to child physical abuse and a 5% increase in admissions due to traumatic brain injury suspected to be child abuse.
‘We were concerned that healthcare providers and child welfare workers anecdotally reported seeing more severe child physical abuse cases, yet national child protective services data indicated a downward trend,’ says Dr. Joanne Wood, lead author of the study and an attending physician at CHOP and researcher at PolicyLab. ‘It's well known that economic stress has been linked to an increase in child physical abuse, so we wanted to get to the bottom of the contrasting reports by formally studying hospital data on a larger scale.’
Dr. Wood says the study highlights opportunities for child welfare agencies and hospitals to collaborate and share data for a more complete picture of child physical abuse rates in communities across the country, in order to develop targeted prevention and intervention.
‘Two major themes emerge from this study,’ she says. ‘First, we see a clear opportunity to use hospital data along with child welfare data to ensure a more complete picture of child abuse rates both locally and nationally. Second, the study identifies another economic hardship – mortgage foreclosures – that is associated with severe physical abuse. As the foreclosure crisis is projected to continue in the near future, these results highlight the need to better understand the stress that housing insecurity places on families and communities so that we can better support them during difficult times.’