Certain birth defects in babies have been shown to lead to increased chances for child abuse, according to a Reuters article published on November 30, 2015.
The study, conducted through analysis of three million Texas children and published in the journal Pediatrics, shows that babies with mouth defects such as cleft lip and palate were significantly more likely to be abused before the age of two than babies without such defects. The study showed a 40 percent increase in abuse for children with these defects. For children born with spina bifida, the correlation with child abuse was even greater, with 58 percent of children experiencing abuse before turning two years of age.
Not all birth defects led to abuse. One birth defect that is increasing in frequency but doesn’t appear to increase chances for abuse is Down syndrome. This is good news for child advocates everywhere and, along with the defects that are coordinated with increased abuse, helps to provide clues as to why some defects lead parents and others to abuse their children.
“Understanding the factors that place children at an increased risk for maltreatment is crucial for prevention”, said Bethanie Van Horne, the leader of the study. “Parenting is challenging, even for typically developing children in well- resourced homes. The medical complications of birth defects like spina bifida or cleft lip or cleft palate add another level of stress and complexity to infant care”, Horne added.
The study examined abuse records taken from a registry of birth defects for Texas children born between 2002 and 2009, coupled with a general report on child abuse from the state of Texas for these same years. Abuse rates were calculated for the overall population and then for babies with various birth defects. The types of abuse most commonly recorded were lack of supervision, physical abuse, physical neglect, and medical neglect in that order.
The occurrence of child abuse is higher among these children with birth defects for numerous reasons, but the parents’ own emotional distress is at the root of the problem. Parents of children with birth defects need to exercise extra patience and need additional support from family doctors, pediatricians, and others as they learn to cope with the unexpected and often challenging turns of events that are part of raising children with birth defects.