When child abuse has been substantiated, a number of risk factors can predict the likelihood that abuse will be repeated if the child is returned to the care of the abuser, according to a prospective cohort study.
For instance, when the parents or caregivers were in their teens or twenties, were survivors of abuse, and had never taken parenting classes -- the child faced a 54% risk of being harmed again, wrote Suzanne R. Dakil, MD, and colleagues from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
But the risk was higher even higher -- 60% -- for children younger than 8.5 years who were returned to parents that had taken parenting class, the researchers reported online in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
Because both Federal and state laws encourage keeping children in the family home if possible after abuse, it's crucial that accurate ways of predicting future risk be identified, Dakil's group stated.
Previous research into risk factors for repeated abuse has been limited in its focus primarily on individual factors, rather than the interaction of many factors.
To look for patterns of characteristics associated with risk of repeated abuse, Dakil and colleagues used a statistical technique known as recursive partitioning analysis, which can identify multiple variables associated with a given outcome.
They identified 2,578 children in the National Survey for Child and Adolescent Well-Being who remained in the home after a report of abuse, following them for five years.
Child characteristics included in the analyses were age, sex, race, and health, while caregiver characteristics included age, marital and employment status, education, and physical and emotional health.
Family and environmental characteristics included stress from unemployment, poverty, or drug use, social support, and domestic violence.
A total of 44% of children in the sample were reported to child welfare authorities again after the index report.
Bivariate analysis determined that these repeated reports were more likely when the child was between 3 years and 10 years of age and had behavior disturbances or developmental delays.
A new report also was more likely if caregivers were younger, had themselves been abused, and were limited in their employment because of health or emotional problems.
A family factor associated with repeated report was income below $20,000, while active domestic violence was less likely.
The finding of lower risk in the presence of domestic violence may be explained by the possibility that children in such homes are more likely to be removed or to be provided with closer support and monitoring, according to the researchers.
The recursive partitioning analysis identified risk clusters beginning with the determination of whether the index case had been substantiated, and found that in unsubstantiated cases, 56% were reported a second time.
Among the 1,252 substantiated index cases, 38% involved a second report.
However, this rose to 86% when the caregiver had a history of abuse and was younger than 33.5 years, the child was younger than 12.5 years but showed no behavioral difficulties, and when five or more children were present in the home.
A cluster of characteristics associated with low incidence of repeated abuse -- 26% -- was a substantiated index report, older age of the caregiver, no parenting classes, and non-African-American race.
"The findings, which go beyond prior research via a data-driven approach to identifying risk clusters, demonstrate that some risk factors, when combined, are powerful predictors of a child's future abuse risk," wrote Dakil and colleagues.
The finding that risk was still high in cases where there had been parenting classes suggests that classes may not be adequate for high-risk families, and additional support or removal might be considered, they noted.
And the increased risk seen with low income and behavior difficulties signals a need for assistance in basics such as housing, employment, medical care, and behavioral services.
In contrast, lower-risk families might not need these intensive services.
"These findings might be useful to [child protection services] in identifying at-risk children and making evidence-based decisions regarding child placement, families' service needs, and the duration and intensity of monitoring that families require," the researchers concluded.
They acknowledged that their study was limited by reliance on caseworker reports, which can be influenced by high worker turnover, and families being lost to follow-up.
Primary source: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine
Dakil S, et al "Recidivism in the child protection system: identifying children at greatest risk of reabuse among those remaining" Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2011; DOI:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.129.
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Risk Factors Predict Repeat Abuse
By Nancy Walsh, Staff Writer, MedPage Today
Published: July 05, 2011
Reviewed by Zalman S. Agus, MD; Emeritus Professor
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and
Dorothy Caputo, MA, RN, BC-ADM, CDE, Nurse Planner