SEATTLE - Home foreclosure rates and child abuse don't appear to have much in common, but a new study
of data from 38 children's hospitals and their local real-estate markets shows a chilling correlation.
For each 1 percent increase in mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures in an area, it notes a 3 percent increase in abuse-related hospital admissions.
Ben Tanzer, communications director for Prevent Child Abuse America, says the study is the first of its kind.
"What's most important is that someone has made a connection between things like housing insecurity and other recession-era challenges that in fact raise stress on parents."
The study found a 5 percent increase in traumatic brain injuries connected to abuse for each 1 percent climb in mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures. In Washington, the Children's Defense Fund
estimates one child suffers abuse or neglect every hour.
Similar findings were suggested in 2009 by Seattle Children's and Harborview hospitals. For Laura Wells, state director of the group Fight Crime, Invest in Kids, the economy has created a new target group of families at risk for abuse.
"We know poverty is a risk factor, but now we've got all these people who are losing their homes, we should be reaching out to those people. This is another risk factor."
Wells says there are effective home-visitation programs in Washington to prevent child abuse aimed at teen parents or low-income households. She says a lack of adequate state funding has meant they're serving only a fraction of the families who would benefit from them.
Tanzer says the study validates anecdotal reports of more child abuse since the onset of the recession, and underscores the need for safety nets on both emotional and financial levels.
"Treating, nurturing things like resilience and the ability to manage stress are incredibly important, but they need to be balanced by having the support systems in place."
The study, "Trends in Child Physical Abuse and The Relationship with Housing Insecurity," was published by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Research Institute. A summary study is online at policylab.us