While millions of people worried about losing their jobs, finding somewhere to live after foreclosure, and trying to keep gasoline in their tanks and food on their tables, an increasing number of babies and toddlers were being severely shaken or otherwise abused. The damage that can come from shaking a small child has been widely publicized, with broken bones, brain damage, and death being the result of the most severe cases.
Yet, research by a group of doctors has recently revealed that between January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2009 (the period of the recent economic crisis), emergency rooms saw a dramatic increase in cases involving head trauma in children from shaking or other forms of child abuse. Here are their findings in a nutshell, as reported initially by Time Magazine and later on MSNBC.com:
* The number of head trauma cases in children as a result of abuse rose as much as 55% during the recession.
* 63% of the children injured were admitted into the hospital for more extensive care.
* 16% of the cases were fatal.
* 60% of the children injured were under 6 months old.
The researchers stopped short of claiming that the increase in child abuse was directly related to unemployment or other economic conditions, but it is being widely speculated by professionals that there is definitely a connection.
It makes a lot of sense that parents who do not have the coping skills to deal with intense stress would become overwhelmed during a recession and lash out in ways that lead to severe child abuse. This could even be parents who are otherwise loving and caring to their children. In the midst of fear, stress, and overwhelming trauma a crying baby or demanding child could be the final straw.
Dr. Rachel Berger, an expert on child abuse and the lead doctor of this research, told Time Magazine that the results were “striking,” though she noted she was not surprised. The Times article drew a clear connection between stressed out parents and shaken baby occurrences, which makes sense that a rise in this type of child abuse would occur during a recession as bad as the one the world has just gone through.
Hopefully this means that the cases of shaken babies and child abuse will decrease as the world recovers from the recession, but there is no guarantee of that.
On May 13, 2010, pennlive.com ran a related story that reported the Harrisburg YWCA was dealing with a higher rate of child abuse and domestic violence victims coming in for safety from abusive fathers or stepfathers. The article also highlights that domestic violence services in the state were dealing with a 26% increase in people coming in for “protection-of-abuse orders.” Similar reports of increased child abuse and domestic violence have surfaced all over the U.S throughout the recession.
Debates are starting in the public and between professionals about what should be done with these findings. Should financial relief from the government increase for families during an economic downturn? Should parents be educated more so they are better able to deal with stress? Is it the place of the government to step into the lives of families and dictate how they deal with their children?
It’s clear that shaking or otherwise injuring children for any reason whatsoever is unacceptable, but most people can’t help but think something needs to be done with research findings as startling as these.