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Shaken Baby Lives

May 2, 2010 permalink

Shaken Baby Syndrome, discredited by science, and the Goudge Inquiry, lives on as a handy way to blame parents in cases of medical error or injury from natural causes. USA Today reports.



Recession linked to increase in shaken baby syndrome


shaken baby incidence
By Frank Pompa, USA TODAY

The recession may be provoking an increase in the deadliest form of child abuse, according to a study that finds that the rate of shaken baby syndrome has nearly doubled since the economy collapsed.

Abusive head trauma, as shaken baby syndrome is formally known, often leads to permanent brain damage or paralysis, says co-author Rachel Berger, a child abuse specialist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. She studied 511 cases over five years in four hospitals in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Seattle and Columbus, Ohio. Abuse increased in every city; the most dramatic increases were in Seattle and Pittsburgh, she says.

Berger acknowledges that a study such as hers can't prove that the recession caused more people to shake their babies. But she believes the link is strong. Berger included only hospitals that employed the same child-protection team throughout the five-year study to ensure that abuse cases were classified the same way before and after the recession began.

And doctors also counted only "unequivocal" cases of child abuse, Berger says.

"We had a high bar, so if anything, we have underestimated the true burden of the problem," says co-author Philip Scribano, medical director of the Center for Child and Family Advocacy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus.

That makes the findings "quite compelling," says Carole Jenny, a professor of pediatrics at Brown Medical School and Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence

Berger's group is the only one "that has studied this in an organized way," Jenny says.

Two-thirds of the children were under age 1, according to the study, presented Saturday at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

Two-thirds of children were admitted into intensive care, and 16% died, the study says.

Nearly 90% of the children were covered by Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled, both before and after the recession.

Because so many patients were on Medicaid, whose recipients are often unemployed, researchers weren't able to tell whether abuse was linked to job loss, Berger says.

Though poor people can be excellent parents, earlier studies have linked child abuse and domestic violence to poverty and stress, says Alice Newton, medical director of the child protection team at Children's Hospital Boston.

Newton says she has seen an increase in especially violent abuse of children, including a baby who was stepped on. Although her hospital typically sees one case of abusive head trauma a month, doctors there have treated six children in the first four months of 2010.

Recessions can contribute to child abuse and death indirectly, Berger says. Cutting funding for child protection can actually cause the number of reported cases to drop — not because fewer children are harmed but because fewer workers are around to file reports, Berger says. States around the country have cut spending for child protection services, she says.

Berger says her study provides a more accurate way to measure child abuse trends.

Because children who survive abusive head trauma always are always hospitalized, Berger says, doctors are unlikely to miss any cases — other than victims whose bodies "go straight to the coroner."