Rates of abusive head trauma in children under age 5 rose during the last recession, suggesting that economic anguish may have led parents to lash out against their kids, researchers reported Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
“Combine the stress of raising a young child with wage cuts or lost jobs and you get "a sort of toxic brew in terms of thinking about possible physical violence," said Mark Rank, a social welfare professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
Rank told the New York Daily News that the study echoes sociological research linking violence with declines in economic health.
Dr. Rachel Berger of the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh led the study. Berger and her co-authors reviewed medical records of children under 5 years old with abusive head trauma in three regions -- six counties in the Seattle area, 23 counties in western Pennsylvania, and 45 counties in Ohio and northern Kentucky -- between Jan. 1, 2004, and June 30, 2009. Roughly the first four years of that period preceded the recession; the last 19 months coincided with it.
A total of 422 kids in all three regions were diagnosed with abusive head trauma. During that research period, 58 percent of them were boys treated for abusive head trauma. Their average age was around eight months and more than three-fourths were less than a year old. There were 63 percent went to a pediatric ICU, and 16 percent died.
Between Jan. 1, 2004, and June 30, 2009, about three-quarters were under the age of one. Abusive head trauma (AHT) can occur when someone shakes a young baby, rattling the child's brain against his or her skull. AHT can also occur after a child is dropped or hit.
Alarmingly, the rates of abuse went up when the United States entered an economic recession between Dec. 1, 2007, and June 30, 2009, despite the fact that the demographics of the treated kids didn’t change.
Before the recession, the researchers found, 8.9 in every 100,000 kids received head trauma from abuse. During the recession, that number rose to 14.7 in every 100,000 kids. Head injuries not caused by abuse remained stable throughout the whole study.
“This study is an illustration of what child abuse doctors have been seeing for quite some time now. It’s the sharing of anecdotal evidence that the recession and economy are added risk factors for child abuse,” said Ryan Steinbeigle, the director of development at the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome.
The center’s mission is to educate and train parents to conduct research that will prevent the shaking and abuse of infants in the United States as shaken baby syndrome is the leading cause of death in abusive head trauma cases.
Steinbeighle told The Christian Post that the economic recession increases the need for prevention. What it boils down to is being able to manage daily aggravations in a calm way.
“Frustration with a crying child is the number one reason why babies are shaken. When you add economic related frustration, whether it be unemployment, home foreclosure, etc, there becomes more risk,” Steinbeighle told CP.
The national center works with hospital and public health centers across the country to spread many prevention programs. One of their programs is called Period of PURPLE Crying Program, an evidence-based infant abuse prevention plan.
Steinbeighle told CP: “It’s okay to be frustrated. You need to take time for yourself before you get to a certain point. Do something to take your mind off the crying infant before you re-attend to a crying child. And remember that babies are injured only when a parent or caregiver reacts poorly.”
Steinbeigle warns that while the economy has an enormous affect on how parents interact with their children, it is not the only risk factor to watch.
He said, “Shaken baby syndrome affects people across socioeconomic groups, because anybody can get frustrated. There are many risk factors. It’s important that everybody has the prevention information.”
More information can be found on DontShake.org.