OGDEN -- During times of stress, medical professionals see more cases of child abuse. For many people, money is the cause of much of that stress.
A significant increase in head trauma from child abuse coincided with recent economic woes, says a recent national study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers did not include Utah in the study, but some have observed the same correlation in the Beehive State.
"We saw exactly the same pattern," said Dr. Lori D. Frasier, medical director of Primary Children's Medical Center for Safe and Healthy Families. "It's never been studied like this before. I think there are better methods of detection."
Most of the children in Utah who suffer from serious head trauma end up at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Frasier tries to track the abuse-related cases that come through the doors.
In 2005, Frasier said, the hospital would see two or three children a month with head injuries caused by child abuse. The numbers peaked at the height of the economic recession in 2007-08, when Frasier said Primary Children's treated about one child a week.
The numbers have dropped since then.
"We've never come up quite to those numbers," Frasier said, "but it never went down to true 2005 levels."
The notion that economic hardship leads to increases in child abuse is not new -- scientific research and anecdotal reports have long shown a relationship.
For example, the Los Angeles Times reported on increases in child abuse and neglect in Los Angeles County during the recession in 1994. In recent years, the co-authors noted in the Pediatrics study, articles in the news media have revived concerns that abuse was on the rise as the economy worsened.
Frasier said she saw one study that documented a rise in abuse after a hurricane hit the Southeast and another involving an increase in abuse during military deployments.
"It seems to be related to stressful periods in families' lives and the challenges of parenting," Frasier said.
The study examined children younger than age 5, but Frasier said most of the injuries happen to babies.
"These are all very young infants and young children," she said.
Much of the time, caregivers explain that they became frustrated when the child would not stop crying.
"It's the straw that breaks the back of the camel," Frasier said.
Amy Wicks, information and research specialist for the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome in Farmington, said the organization has created a prevention program that teaches new parents nonabusive techniques for handling their children.
Before leaving the hospital, parents receive a DVD and a brochure about avoiding shaken baby syndrome, she said.
Frasier said the goal is now to educate baby sitters and other caregivers.
The data also suggests that physicians may want to be extra vigilant for signs of child abuse as economic conditions remain in the doldrums, the study said.
Material from the Los Angeles Times was used in this article.