Entries in Child Abuse (7)


Child Abuse Rates Down for Fifth Consecutive Year

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Child abuse and neglect cases in the U.S. fell for the fifth straight year, according to a government report released Wednesday.

According to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, there were 681,000 cases of neglect or abuse in 2011, down from 723,000 five years ago.

“We have made excellent progress over the past five years,” said George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary of ACF, in a press release.  “But what this report tells me is that we still have 681,000 children out there who need our help.  We must continue coordination efforts among federal, state and local agencies to focus on child maltreatment prevention.”

The administration also tracked statistics on children facing abuse or maltreatment.  It found that 80.8 percent of abusers were the victim’s parent, and in 11.2 percent of cases the victim was physically or mentally disabled.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study: Gender Nonconforming Children Face Increased Risk of Abuse

Comstock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- One in 10 children is at increased risk of abuse as well as post-traumatic stress disorder in adulthood because they are gender nonconforming, according to a new study.

Much of that abuse -- emotional, physical and even sexual -- is at the hands of their parents or other adults in the home, according to a study published today online, which will appear in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children's Hospital in Boston analyzed questionnaires from nearly 9,000 young adults with an average age of 23.

The children had enrolled in the longitudinal Growing Up Today study in 1996 and were asked a decade later in 2007 to recall their childhood experiences, including favorite games and toys, roles they took in play, media characters they admired and feelings of femininity and masculinity.

As young adults, they were also asked about physical, sexual or emotional abuse they experienced and were screened for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rates of PTSD were almost twice as high among young adults who were gender nonconforming in childhood than among those who were not, according to researchers.

"The message of this study is discrimination towards these kids is pretty severe and it takes place in the home as well as outside the home," said lead author Andrea Roberts, a research associate in the Department of Society, Human Development and Health at Harvard.

"And it can have lasting health effects on kids -- PTSD is a very serious illness -- It's bad news."

PTSD has also been linked to risky behavior such as engaging in unprotected sex and medical symptoms such as cardiovascular problems and chronic pain.

"There are stereotypes and society is pretty intolerant of gender nonconformity," Roberts said.

An estimated 1 in 10 children younger than 11 display some degree of gender nonconformity in their behavior dress and play, according to this study.

Transgenderism, where a child's biological gender and identity do not match up, occurs in an estimated 1 in 1,000 children.

This was the first study to use a population-based sample to look at gender nonconformity as a risk factor for abuse. Most other studies of this kind have been of LGBT youth.

The study sample was not selected on the basis of sexual orientation and comprised primarily white students.

Most of the focus today is about bullying in school, but this study looked at the home environment, asking subjects openly about psychological and physical abuse by parents and other adults in the home.

Researchers asked subjects questions such as, "Did your parents hate you?" or "Did they kick you?" or "Were you being yelled at or screamed at or berated?"

Roberts suggested that parents who are uncomfortable with a child's gender expression might try to change the behavior.

Although gender identity and sexual orientation are different, families often assume that their child will be gay and they can change them. "They become more hard in their parenting," Roberts said.

The Family Research Project at San Francisco State University confirms in its research that parental behaviors have an effect on their children's health and mental outcomes. Positive family responses to gender nonconforming children were "protective factors" for those risks.

Harvard researchers rated subjects to determine the degree of gender nonconformity in childhood. Men in the 10th percentile reported a higher incidence of sexual and physical abuse before age 11 and psychological abuse from 11 to 17, compared with those below the median percentile.

Women in the top 10th percentile reported a higher prevalence of all forms of abuse as children.

Boys, as a group, tend to be more gender-conforming in general. "There's a narrow band," Roberts said. "Girls ranged a bit more."

Dr. Madeline Deutsch, director of the transgender health program at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, said that "recall" studies are often flawed.

But Deutsch said she is he is "not surprised at all" by its findings based on her work with transgender youth, and said more research is critical.

"It really bothers people on a basic level when behavior is discordant with gender," Deutsch said. "When you have a child, the first thing people ask is not whether the baby has brown hair or how much the baby weighs, or whether there are birth marks. But is it a boy or is it a girl?"

She said that acceptance at home is "central" to a child's development. And those who do not conform to their gender can struggle with parental issues well into their 20s.

The Harvard study found that 85 percent of the participants who were gender nonconforming in childhood said they were heterosexual in adulthood.

"Our findings suggest that most of the intolerance toward gender nonconformity in children is targeted toward heterosexuals," Roberts said.

"We did find a strong relationship between nonconformity and sexual orientation," she said. "They were more likely to be LGBT."

Other studies have shown that children who are perceived as gay and bullied are at greater risk for physical violence and for depression and suicide.

Biased remarks and homophobia adversely affect students' educational outcomes and personal development at every grade level, according to a study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network (GLSEN) in its most recent report, "Playgrounds and Prejudice."

GLSEN research reveals that gender nonconforming students are less likely than other students to feel safe at school. They also are more likely than others to be called names, made fun of or bullied.

The Harvard study also emphasizes the need for elementary schools to do more to address issues of homophobia, gender expression and family diversity.

More research is needed to understand why gender nonconforming kids experience greater risk of abuse, and to develop interventions to prevent abuse, the researchers said.

They recommend that pediatricians and school health providers consider abuse screening for this vulnerable population.

Deutsch agrees that there should be secondary protections for gender nonconforming people in the schools and in the workplace, and institutions "at the top" should set the tone for nondiscriminatory policies.

But, she said, "They have finally started looking at places outside school, in the home."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study: Abuse Landed 4,500 US Children in Hospital, Killed 300

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(NEW HAVEN, Conn.) -- Child abuse landed 4,569 American children in the hospital in 2006, 300 of whom died from their injuries, according to a new study.

The rate of hospitalization was highest among children under a year old, with roughly 58 per 100,000 babies needing care for serious injuries related to abuse.

"There are far too many children, especially very young children, who suffer serious injuries from child abuse and are hospitalized for the care of these injuries," said study author Dr. John Leventhal, a professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine and a pediatrician at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Leventhal and colleagues compared the characteristics of children hospitalized because of abuse, including age and insurance status, to those of children hospitalized for reasons other than abuse, such as accidental injuries or illnesses.  Among the findings, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, abused children of all ages were more likely to be covered by Medicaid.

"In our study Medicaid was a proxy measure for poverty, and poverty increases the stress in people's lives," said Leventhal. "But it's important to note that any parent could lose it."

The rate of death due to abuse was six times higher than the rate of death among children hospitalized for non-abusive injuries or illnesses, and the average length of stay in the hospital was almost double at just over a week.

The study highlights the heavy burden of abuse among the country's most vulnerable citizens.

"The worst is when these kids die," said Leventhal. "Clearly those families are destroyed. Some people go to jail, and that's a heartache too. Sometimes, children are placed with a relative or in foster care. Of course, there's heartache there, too."

Child abuse carries a heavy cost, too.  The average hospital stay cost $16,058, compared with $9,550 for non-abuse-related injuries and $7,964 for other illnesses, bringing the national cost of abuse-related hospitalizations to $73.8 million -- a fraction of the estimated $124 billion spent on justice, education, health care and social support for children who survive abuse and neglect, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We're not messing around with small things here. This is on par with the cost of type 2 diabetes in this country," said Leventhal. "Never mind the heartache for the kids and families."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Teens as Young as 14 Engaging in Group Sex, Study Finds

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- A study of girls at Massachusetts health clinics found that one in 13 said they had participated in group sex -- and that the behavior was strongly associated with pornography and child abuse.

Although the study, published by the Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of New York Academy of Medicine, is a small one, the researchers said it offers a window into a risky sex behavior that has so far been given little legitimacy.

More than half of the girls who reported experiencing group sex said they had been coerced into doing so, according to the study.  Many admitted they had been "liquored up" on alcohol and drugs, often against their will.

The average age of the first group-sex experience was 15.6, according to the study, and for most, it was a one-time experience.

"I am really incredulous that this has not had more study and attention," said Emily Rothman, lead author at Boston University School of Public Health.

"The take-home message is that both consensual and non-consensual group sex is happening among youth -- and pediatricians, health organizations and rape crisis centers need to be prepared to talk about and provide the education to address it," she said.

Rothman interviewed 328 females between the ages of 14 and 20 who had used a community or school-based health center to see if they had ever had sex with multiple partners.

These girls had sought help at the clinics for a variety of reasons from strep throats to sprained ankles, not just for reproductive care.

An estimated 7.3 percent of the teens said they had experienced what researchers called "multi-person sex" -- an experience that could have ranged from a gang rape to a sex party.

"I think one of the things going on here is that boyfriends or sex partners are forcing their female partners to watch porn and also then coercing them," Rothman said. "Whether that is through peer pressure or doing things they see in the porn, we don"t know."

Those girls were also five times more likely than those who did not have group sex to have watched pornography in the last month.

In those who said they had group sex, 45 percent reported having sex without a condom in a recent encounter.  They also were more likely to smoke cigarettes, have been a victim of dating violence or had a sexually transmitted disease diagnosis.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Research Links Recession to Cases of Child Abuse

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(PITTSBURGH) -- Children, and particularly infants, are the most vulnerable and often end up at the receiving end of adult frustration and impatience. And when the environment in which they live is pushed to the limit, incidences of child abuse often rise. Now, a new study is linking years of recession to child abuse.
New research, conducted between 2007 through 2009, the years in which America saw its economy critically worsen, shows an increase in abusive head trauma -- more commonly called shaken baby syndrome. Researchers decided to study brain-injuring abuse after pediatricians anecdotally noticed the uptick.
The children, mostly from lower-income families and chosen because they face greater risks of abuse, involved 74 counties spanning four states. Though this particular form of abuse is uncommon, the number of cases in the areas studied increased sharply -- rising from about nine cases per 100,000 children in pre-recession years to almost 15 per 100,000 during the recession, up 65 percent.
This research doesn't prove that the recession caused the abuse -- many of the families studied were already financially stressed. But with census data showing a record 46.2 million Americans now classified as "poor," further study is clearly warranted.

This study's findings are published in the journal Pediatrics.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Parents Caught Spanking Children on Tape

Comstock/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- Researcher George Holden set off to study how often parents yelled at their children, but after listening to 36 hours of real-time audiotapes he heard something else -- the cracks of spanking and the screams that followed.

Most of the behavioral incidents were "petty" in nature, according Holden, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Texas, but the punishment was "virtually all highly inappropriate."

In one incident recorded on tape, a mother spanked her 3-year-old 11 times for fighting with his sister and is reduced to tears and coughing.  One child was punished for not cleaning his room.  Another was slapped for being overzealous during a bedtime story by pointing and turning the page.

"They were pretty shocking," said Holden, who has written five books on child development.

"They highlight that so much of corporal punishment are misguided notions of parenting that are bad for the child," he said. "It's sad that a parent inadvertently ruins the quality of their relationship by jumping on the child for being a normal kid."

The study, Real Life Mother-Child Interaction in the Home, was conducted over six nights, when parents and children were most tired.  Holden found 36 mothers and one father at Dallas day care centers who agreed to leave a tape running between the time they got home and put the kids to bed.

The parents were evenly divided from all economic backgrounds.  Most were white and a third were African Americans.

So as not to skew the study, they were told that it was about parents' interaction with their children.

"The vast majority -- 90 percent of parents -- admit yelling at their kids, but we didn't have a good data what is it like," Holden told ABC News.

But the tapes showed more than yelling.

"We have not totally coded all the tapes yet, so we actually expect to find a lot more examples of this inadvertent window into parents' use of corporal punishment," said Holden.  "It presents a unique view that no one ever had before about what goes on in these families."

Holden presented his study this month in Dallas at the Global Summit on Ending Corporal Punishment and Promoting Positive Discipline and it was reported in Time magazine.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Does Arizona Mother Accused of Poisoning Baby Have Munchausen's?

Tucson Police Department(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- Police say they have arrested a 21-year-old Arizona mother for child abuse after her infant daughter was diagnosed with nine different rare infections.

Doctors treating the child suspected the mother, Blanca Montano, of having something called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, which caused her to poison her child intentionally to get attention, police said.

Montano took her two children to an Arizona hospital in late February with flu-like symptoms.  The children were diagnosed and treated for an infection.  Montano's son was soon released, but her infant daughter got sicker and sicker.  She was eventually diagnosed with nine separate rare infections over the course of her hospital stay, according to a statement from the Tucson Police Department.

Staff at the University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona noticed the child's condition worsened every time she was alone with her mother.  They began to suspect Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy and reported their suspicions to the police.

After launching an investigation, the Tucson Police Department learned that Montano intentionally poisoned her child and caused her illness.  Once Montano was barred from visiting, said police, the baby's condition improved significantly.

Police arrested Montano on Tuesday, charging her with one count of child abuse.

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is often incorrectly referred to as a psychiatric disorder, said Dr. Marc Feldman, a psychiatrist at the University of Alabama who wrote Playing Sick? Untangling the Web of Munchausen Syndrome, Munchausen by Proxy, Malingering, and Factitious Disorder.

"It is not a mental illness," Feldman said.  "It is a form of abuse, just like sexual abuse, physical abuse and emotional abuse -- it's just a variant."

Feldman said Montano's case sounds like a typical Munchausen by Proxy case, in which a mother fakes or causes a disease in her child and then seeks out repeated medical attention for the child.  The reasons for harming one's own child are manifold.  He also noted that Munchausen mothers often have a history of abuse.

In the few cases in which mothers have acknowledged that they are perpetrators, said Feldman, they said they wanted attention, sympathy, care and concern.  The Munchausen mothers felt they were unable to get the attention they needed any other way.

"They felt anonymous in their daily lives and unappreciated as mothers," said Feldman.

After sickening their children, these women shift identities from that of invisible mother to admirable, indefatigable caregiver of a sick child whose illness eludes diagnosis.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio