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Official: Child abuse stats hint NH rate is steady

New Hampshire Sunday News

March 09. 2013 9:21PM
Several months after he was released from the hospital last spring, young Strider Downs-Skidgel (right) relaxes with his dad, Edward Skidgel and brother, Gallagher, at their Maine home. (LARISSA MULKERN PHOTO)

In New Hampshire, 395 children were discharged from emergency departments and hospitals after being treated for severe child-abuse injuries from 2001 to 2009.

The children - from newborns through age 17 - were assaulted, poisoned, cut, bitten, strangled or burned, among other injuries, according to data compiled by JoAnne Miles, injury surveillance program coordinator at the state Department of Health and Human Services.

There were no statistically significant changes; the discharges essentially remained flat, said Miles, who compiled the data in response to a Sunday News request.

"In injury prevention, preventing an increase in rates is considered a small success," Miles said. "The goal is to promote a decrease."

Emergency department discharges accounted for 208 children, and 187 children were discharged after inpatient hospital care.

Fifty-nine percent of the discharges were boys. Forty-one percent of the cases included newborns to 4-year-olds.

The inpatient care cost $4.5 million, averaging $24,064 per child, and $165,000 in emergency room visits, or $792 per patient, with Medicaid paying 52 percent of the costs.

Sixty-two percent of the children spent two to seven days in the hospital, 12 percent spent eight to 14 in the hospital and 7 percent spent 15 or more days, the report said.

Miles used a coding process similar to the one Dr. John Leventhal and Julie Gaither, both of Yale University, used in a national study published in the journal Pediatrics last fall called "Using US Data to Estimate the Incidence of Serious Physical Abuse in Children."?Leventhal said the New Hampshire data mirrored their findings in the much larger national study.

Leventhal found a 5 percent increase nationally in the number of children who were hospitalized for serious child abuse injuries; an 11 percent increase for the most vulnerable, newborns to 1-year-olds, from 1997 to 2011. The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System showed a 56 percent decline in physical child abuse during that period.

Leventhal said length of stay for hospitalizations did not change, but the incidence of children dying in the hospital because of their abusive injuries increased.

More prevention programs are needed, he said.

"Such programs will require substantial resources, effective strategies to help parents and other caregivers respond in nonviolent ways to the stresses and frustrations of caring for young children, and the targeting of large numbers of families," Leventhal said.

He pointed to the successful campaign in the 1990s - to have all infants sleep in the supine position - that led to a 50 percent reduction in the occurrence of sudden infant death syndrome in the United States.

"A similar national campaign will be required to address serious abusive injuries in children," Leventhal said. "Babies are getting hurt. That hasn't changed and I think that is important."

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