June 2, 2014 / 8:10 PM / 5 years ago

One in eight U.S. children experiences maltreatment: study

By Andrew M. Seaman

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - About one in eight American children and adolescents will experience maltreatment by adulthood, according to a new study.

The estimate is higher than the average 0.8 percent of children who are found to be victims of maltreatment during any given year, according to the study’s lead author.

“That 12.5 percent of children get to a point where their maltreatment is confirmed highlights just how big of a risk factor this is for children,” said Christopher Wildeman.

Even that may be a dramatic underestimate because there could be cases that can’t be confirmed or others that go unreported, Wildeman, a sociologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, told Reuters Health.

Maltreatment can encompass everything from neglect to physical, mental and sexual abuse.

Beyond the immediate danger to the child, Wildeman said maltreatment may have long-lasting effects, too.

“These instances of neglect are extreme enough that they could have really detrimental effects on the children for the long haul,” he said.

For their study, the researchers used data on 5.7 million children with confirmed reports of maltreatment between 2004 and 2011 included in the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System Child File.

They estimate about one in eight children will experience maltreatment by age 18, based on the 2011 rates.

Those rates are higher among minority children, with one in five black children estimated to experience maltreatment by adulthood and one in seven Native Americans.

Wildeman and his colleagues write in JAMA Pediatrics that black children are about as likely to be victims of confirmed child maltreatment as they are to complete college.

Children were most at risk of maltreatment during their first few years of life, with about 6 percent experiencing some kind of abuse or neglect by the time they were five years old, the researchers found.

Additional research on child maltreatment and abuse-prevention programs should be the next step, Wildeman said.

“Anybody who does work on child health and inequalities should incorporate child maltreatment in a more substantial way,” he said.

Last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a U.S. government-backed panel, found additional research is needed to conclude whether office- or home-based child maltreatment programs are effective at preventing abuse (see Reuters Health story of June 10, 2013 here: reut.rs/1mK1dos.)

“I think people sweep it under the rug because it’s so rare, but these data show we can’t do that anymore,” Wildeman said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/1adWrco JAMA Pediatrics, online June 2, 2014.

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