According to new research from Childrens Hospital of Pittsburgh, the recession is linked to an increase in child abuse.
The researchers studied 422 abused children from lower-income families in 74 counties in four states.
Lead author Dr. Rachel Berger of the hospital said the results confirm anecdotal reports from many pediatricians who have seen increasing numbers of shaken baby cases and other forms of brain-injuring abuse.
She decided to study the type of injury after noticing an increase at her own hospital during the latest recession.
Berger said that her hospital averaged 30 shaken baby cases a year during late 2007 through June 2009, compared to 17 before 2007.
The study found that number of cases per county increased from 9 cases per 100,000 children in pre-recession years to 15 cases per 100,000 kids during the recession.
Most of the children who were studied suffered brain damage and 69 died.
Mark Rank, a social welfare professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a statement to the Associated Press (AP) that with the stress of raising a young child combined with wage cuts or lost jobs, it results in “a sort of toxic brew in terms of thinking about possible physical violence.”
About 1,800 toddlers in the U.S. suffer from an abusive head trauma each year, but the researchers believe this statistic is an underestimate.
Federal data showed a decline in child abuse in 2008, but Berger said those numbers did not take shaken baby cases into account and have a restrictive definition of abuse.
Berger said one reason for the increase is that mothers may have had to leave their babies with people who do not usually take care of them.
“The number one perpetrators are fathers and male caretakers,” she said. “Very few perpetrators are mothers. It’s the people that mothers give their kids to that end up being the perpetrator.”
Dr. Peter Sherman, director of the residency program in social pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, told AP that studying different regions and children from more middle class families would help clarify if the recession played a role.
Most parents who abuse young children aren’t “ill-intentioned,” he said in a statement. “Most of it is kind of just snapping…maybe being sleep-deprived and just losing it. It’s something that can happen to anyone. Economics is just another stress” that can increase the risks, Sherman said.
The study was published online in the journal Pediatrics.
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