Report Cites Abuse of 91,000 Babies Under 1
Friday, April 4, 2008
More than 91,000 babies were mistreated in their first year of life in the United States in 2006, according to the first national estimate of abuse of the nation's youngest, most vulnerable children, prepared by federal officials on the basis of cases substantiated by state and local children's protective services agencies.
Although the report focused on nonfatal maltreatment, officials estimated that abuse killed an additional 499 children in 2006 before their first birthday.
"It's a picture that you don't even want to imagine -- that this number of infants are being maltreated," said Ileana Arias of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which prepared the report. "We find it incredibly distressing and unacceptable that children nowadays are being subjected to these kinds of behaviors."
More than one-third of the nonfatal abuse occurred in the first week of life, with most involving neglect rather than purposeful physical abuse, according to the analysis of data from the national child abuse system.
Under federal law, states since 1993 file with a federal database reports of all abuse cases verified by investigators. The inquiries can be triggered by suspicions raised by medical and social services personnel, law enforcement, teachers or day-care providers, parents, relatives, neighbors or friends.
Because the report marked the first attempt to examine abuse among the youngest children, officials said they did not know whether the number is increasing. But they expressed dismay at the magnitude of the problem.
"Child maltreatment is a serious public health problem," Arias said.
For the study, researchers examined data collected in fiscal 2006 from 44 states plus the District through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, which compiles reports from child protective service agencies.
A total of 905,000 children younger than 18 were reported to have been abused that year, including 91,278 who had not yet reached their first birthday, the analysis published in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows. That is a rate of more than 23 mistreated babies in every 1,000 of the nearly 4 million infants during the period studied.
Of the children abused in their first year, more than 84 percent -- 35,455 -- were less than a month old, and of those, more than 84 percent -- 29,881 -- were less than a week old. Most of the abuse -- 68 percent -- was considered neglect.
"Neglect is officially defined as the failure the meet a child's basic needs," Arias said. "That can be anything involving the provision of appropriate housing or food or clothing or even access to medical care."
Of the remainder, about 13 percent was clear-cut physical abuse, defined as "the intentional use of physical force by a parent or caregiver against a child that results in, or has the potential to result in, physical injury" -- such as beating, kicking, biting, burning, shaking, the researchers wrote. The researchers said they had too little information on the other cases to classify them.
A total of 47,117 of the cases -- nearly 52 percent -- involved boys. Beyond the immediate danger of physical harm, research has shown that abused or neglected children are much more likely to experience long-term physical and emotional problems, the researchers noted.
While the data could not explain why the abuse occurred or why the youngest babies were so often victims, the researchers speculated it may be because they are especially dependent on their caregivers.
"The findings underscore the need for doctors, relatives and others to alert authorities early of any concerns about abuse, she said.
"What the data are suggesting is that maltreatment is taking place earlier on than we had been focusing on, and so what we need to do is identify what the best possible points of intervention and the best way of intervening in order to make sure that doesn't happen," Arias said. "What we are trying to do is move the dial back a little earlier and make sure that there never is an occasion for someone to pick up a phone or hotline to report that a child is being maltreated."
One solution may be to provide more counseling to pregnant women or those still in the hospital.