02 February 2010

Good News: Child Abuse Drops Dramatically

From Denny: This is good news! A 38% drop in sexually abused children occurred from a high of 217,700 in 1993 - dropping down to 135,300 in 2006. What about physical abuse during this period? Dropped by 15%. What about emotional abuse during this period? Dropped by 27%.

Experts in the area of child abuse are heralding this finding as proof that public awareness campaigns have made great headway along with judicial crackdowns.

When you combine all the areas of abuse - physical, emotional and sexual - it averages out to being down by 26% since 1993. In this study there were 553,000 children studied as opposed to 743,200 children studied in 1993.

This is a 455-page government mandated study called the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect is conducted periodically by the Department of Health and Human Services.

What is so encouraging is that this is the first time there has been such a dramatic decrease over a long period of study since we began collecting data. "It does suggest that the mobilization around this issue is helping and it's a problem that is amenable to solutions," said professor David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire, a leading researcher in the field of child abuse. "It does suggest that the mobilization around this issue is helping and it's a problem that is amenable to solutions."

Where did they collect this much information? The detailed data was produced by 10,700 "sentinels" - child welfare workers, police officers, teachers, health care professionals and day care workers - that helped create national estimates.

"There's much more public awareness and public intolerance around child abuse now," said Linda Spears who is the Child Welfare League of America's Vice President for public policy. "It was a hidden concern before — people were afraid to talk about it if it was in their family." Spears also commented there is now an abundance of programs to help abusers overcome their destructive behavior.

Professor Finkelhor, who has also conducted similar research and found a drop in abuse rates, believes the study depicts "real, substantial declines." Nor can this decrease be attributed to changing the definition of abuse.

Finkelhor speculated there may be several reasons such as in the 1990s more people were deployed in child protection services and the criminal justice system strongly focused its efforts on more arrests and prison sentences for abusers. Since then more child abusers had available to them medications to help them cope, therefore preventing molesting or mistreating a child.

"There's also been a general change in perceptions and norms about what one can get away with, so much more publicity about these things," he said.

Socio-economic factors were considered. As expected from previous studies, poverty played a starring role as three times more likely for children to be abused than other children. The rates in African-American households were also much higher than in Hispanic and Caucasian homes.

They even took a look at the family structure. It's a bit chilling about what was found here: a single parent, with a live-in partner, might abuse children at 10 times the rate of a two parent household.

The main author of the study is Andrea Sedlak, Westat, Inc. in Maryland. She was concerned over their finding that more than half of the child maltreatment incidents are not actually investigated by a child-protection agency. "Is the system still so strapped?" she asked. "There's still a lot of material here saying the system has a long way to go."

Of course, this study is now almost four years old upon its release this week. Since 2006, this country has sunk down into a deep recession or a depression with over 20% of America out of work like in the 1930s. With all the job loss and family financial pressures and home foreclosures there have been reports of domestic violence on the rise.

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