Preventing child abuse shouldn’t require any ulterior motives — protecting the well-being of America’s children should be enough. But there is also a big financial incentive for the government to enhance child abuse prevention efforts.
Medical care costs for abused kids is $2,600 more per year than care for children who have not been abused, according to a study from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, published in the journal Pediatrics.
“Everyone would agree that spending money on protecting children is necessary,” said Alice L. Kassens, PhD, associate professor of economics at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., who was not affiliated with the study. “But this study should open policy makers’ eyes that they need to spend more money on preventing these crimes from occurring.”
The study used child well-being survey data on 5,501 children across 36 states who were considered maltreated or at risk for maltreatment. Child maltreatment was defined by four major types: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect.
A control group of 972 non-abused children was used to compare the cost of Medicaid between the two groups.
A statistical analysis of the two groups found that most of the additional costs for abused and neglected children came from higher psychiatric costs ($1,265/year for abused and neglected kids versus $384/year for kids who were not maltreated) and inpatient hospitalization costs ($837 versus $478). Remaining cost differences were related to outpatient care, prescription drugs, targeted case management, and home health and rehabilitation.
Overall, 61 percent of the children studied had Medicaid coverage. Researchers applied this percentage to the total number of investigated child maltreatment cases from 2008 and estimated that approximately 2,257,000 maltreated children were on Medicaid. These children required an estimated $5.9 billion per year in Medicaid coverage, or 9 percent of all Medicaid costs for children.
Cutting the rate of child abuse and child neglect would allow those funds to be used for other things, said Dr. Kassens, such as educating and feeding the kids.
In addition, Kassens suggested, “Increasing the penalties for those who get caught should be considered, or increasing the resources to stop child abuse.”
The significant financial drain of child maltreatment prompted researchers to urge further research to examine the benefits of preventive interventions. One such child abuse prevention program, the Triple P Positive Parenting Program, was cited as an example of an intervention that could potentially stop approximately 300 of every 100,000 abused children cases per year.
The Dangers of Child Abuse
Unfortunately for the victims of child maltreatment, the problems caused by such abuse and neglect extend beyong the financial burden on the government and the healthcare system.
Abused children are more likely to be depressed when they grow up, abuse drugs and alcohol, have difficulty with relationships, and become abusers themselves, according to Laura Berman, PhD.
As maltreated children grow up, they are susceptible to a cycle of abuse known as repetition compulsion and marked by a pattern of multiple abusive relationships, even after childhood, Dr. Berman says.
“Addressing the wounds of childhood takes therapy,” said Berman in her blog post. “A therapist who specializes in childhood abuse will be able to offer an individual the assistance and resources needed to finally break the chain of abuse.”
“Research published in 2012 estimated that children who are abused are twice as likely to commit crimes,” added Kassens. “So if we can cut back on child abuse, then we can cut down on crime long term.”
Different Types of Child Abuse
The Pediatrics study does not differentiate between types of child abuse, but recommends that future studies consider the costs associated with all types of child abuse.
While all forms of abuse in childhood carry similar adult health risks – like obesity and depression – some are more closely linked to specific risks than others. For example, childhood sexual abuse is more closely linked to sexual problems in adulthood than other forms of childhood abuse. Sexual abuse after-effects can include a limited ability to feel sexual pleasure, sexual promiscuity, and an increased likelihood of engaging in risky sex.
Physical abuse is more likely to cause permanent physical harm than neglect or other types of child abuse.
Identifying the differences among types of child abuse can help researchers come up with effective prevention initiatives that not only help lessen the financial burned on Medicaid, but also provide more targeted treatment and prevention plans for abused kids.