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Study links child abuse to home foreclosures

Small children may be suffering the effects of the home foreclosure crisis in a serious way, researchers reported on Monday. They found a troubling increase in the number of young children with physical abuse showing up in hospital emergency rooms.

The researchers found just under a 1 percent increase in the number of general physical abuse cases reported at 38 pediatric hospitals every year between 2000 and 2009 and a more than 3 percent rise in the number of traumatic brain injuries seen in babies.

These increased rates seemed to directly correlate with the rate of mortgage foreclosures in a community, Dr. Joanne Wood of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and colleagues reported in the journal Pediatrics. There might be something uniquely stressful about losing a home that can lead to child abuse, they suggested.

“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,” Wood said in a statement.

They found that each 1 percent increase in mortgage delinquencies correlated with a 3 percent increase in the number of children 6 and under hospitalized every year for suspected physical abuse and a 5 percent increase in admissions due to traumatic brain injury from 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,” Wood said.

They said their findings need more study to confirm them, especially because they contradict other data showing child abuse rates are down overall nationwide. It might be important to pinpoint communities that are particularly affected and help those parents cope, said Dr. David Rubin, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who worked on the study.

“It is a reminder to me that when I see families in my practice who have lost their insurance or who have changed homes, to probe a little further about the challenges they are facing. As communities, we all need to reach out a little more to identify which families may be in crisis and help guide them to appropriate resources for support," Rubin said.

There was no link between suspected child abuse cases and unemployment rates, the researchers found.

“At the local and state levels, child welfare agencies should consider additional methods of tracking child abuse data, including hospital data. These efforts will enable public agencies to better monitor child abuse and neglect and to respond effectively to the needs of children and families,” the researchers advised.

“Pediatricians and other health care providers should be aware about housing insecurity that may be affecting families in their care. Providers can help connect patients and families to appropriate social services, such as cash assistance, food stamps, medical assistance benefits, and foreclosure counseling.”

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