In a 12-year period, abuse-related injuries that landed children in the hospital – head trauma, burns, fractures – went up by about 5 percent.
Compare that to data from child protective services agencies, which shows a 55-percent decrease in physical abuse cases in that same timeframe, between 1997 and 2009.
The disparity was detailed in a study from the Yale School of Medicine which appeared in Pediatrics. In it, researchers voiced concerns that statistics on child abuse from child protection agencies may be due to changes in how cases are reported, rather than an actual decline in child abuse.
It's possible that the disparity can be attributed to the fact that child protective agencies include all cases of physical abuse, regardless of a child's age or severity, in their stats. The study, on the other hand, only looked at serious abuse that resulted in a hospitalized child.
It's also possible that, for child protective agencies, that data just isn't there.
"Ordinarily, we wouldn't have an electronic coding of what [abuse-related] injury was requiring hospitalization," said Armand Montiel, a public information officer for the L.A. County Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS). Essentially, that means information on whether or not abuse caused a trip to the hospital isn't readily available.
"We'd have to really do an extensive case-by-case review of the documentation," continued Montiel, adding that that information isn't on hand.
Montiel said in South Los Angeles – Service Planning Area 6 – "substantiated allegations of child abuse or neglect" have stayed "pretty steady": a 1.3-percent decrease between 2010 and 2012.
In April, a DCFS official said the southside sees an average of 2,400 new allegations of child abuse a month, meaning calls occur at a rate of about 120 per day.
In a statement, lead study author Dr. John Levanthal noted that children covered by Medicaid had rates of serious abuse that were nearly six times higher than children not on Medicaid.
"This speaks to the importance of poverty as a risk factor for serious abuse," he said.
Photo by Christian Scheja via Flickr Creative Commons.