A deeply depressing Reuters article reports that the economic crisis has resulted in a dramatic rise in child abuse. Boston Children's Hospital, which typically handles 1,500 cases per year, recorded 1,800 in 2008. And 2009 may turn out to be even worse. "In the last three months we have twice as many severe inflicted injury cases as we did in the three months the previous year," said Allison Scobie, program director of the Child Protection Team at the hospital.
Hospitals in Syracuse, N.Y., and Seattle, Wash., have observed a similar trend, and departments of child and family services in states such as Ohio and Illinois are recording record increases in abuse cases. These problems are only compounded by the crippling budget cuts facing child-protective agencies across the country. As Reuters reports, Massachusetts' Department of Children and Family Services anticipates losing $25 million is funding for 2010.
The article seems to describe two distinct strands of recession-related child abuse: physical injury and neglect. Doctors are attributing the rise in "shaken-baby syndrome" and other instances of violence against children to parents' economic woes. "I'm seeing more severe physical abuse. In general there's a lot more stress right now in society. And it comes out on the kids. They are the weakest link," said Dr. Ann Botash, who leads the Child Abuse Referral and Evaluation Program at State University of New York in Syracuse.
While it's easy -- and appropriate -- to condemn parents who hurt their children, for whatever reason, the neglect cases are more complicated. Reuters tells the story of a 9-year-old diabetic boy whose single mother could no longer afford the insurance co-payments for his treatment and who left her son home alone at times when he required medical attention. The article doesn't let us know what happened to the family, and I'm not sure there's an easy answer to the question of what should happen. No child should live in a home that can't meet his basic needs. At the same time, will a cash-strapped child-protection agency be able to provide a superior solution? This kind of poverty-related neglect requires major systemic changes, like better, cheaper childcare and affordable health insurance. Hope the people in Washington are listening.