Abuse Rates Rising Faster for Older Children, Study Says

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The number of cases of family abuse and neglect involving adolescents is growing at a faster rate than that for younger children, according to a report published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Moreover, older children are more likely than younger children to be blamed by adults for the abuse, the report says.

The study, conducted by the A.M.A.'s council on scientific affairs, analyzed several national studies on child abuse and assessed trends for older children.

One study showed that adolescents made up one-quarter of the more than 832,000 cases of child abuse reported in the United States in 1990. That year, more than 208,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 17 were reported to child-protection agencies as victims of physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional abuse or neglect.

Other surveys showed that adolescents made up as much as 47 percent of reported cases of abuse.

One national survey taken twice during the 1980's concluded that in 1986, adolescents were the age group most often abused, and that between 1980 and 1988 their rate of abuse rose faster than that of other age groups.

Children under age 12 did not show as "disturbing'' an increase, according to the A.M.A. report.

'Educational Neglect'

Adults are also less likely to view adolescent victims of abuse as innocent victims, the study asserts.

"Stereotypes of victims as small and helpless and of perpetrators as big and powerful evoke sympathy for younger child victims,'' the study says.

Parents of adolescent victims in 1990 were more likely to be better educated and more affluent than parents of younger child-abuse victims, the report says.

Although younger and older children tended to suffer the same amount of neglect in recent years, teenagers suffered more "educational neglect,'' which the study defines as cases in which a parent permits long-term truancy, fails to enroll a child in school, or is inattentive to a child's special-education needs.

In 1986, 15- to 17-year-olds experienced educational neglect at a rate of 10 per every 1,000 in that age group; this form of neglect was less common among younger children, according to the study.

In its recommendations to the A.M.A., the study's authors, most of whom are physicians, encourage state medical societies to develop violence-prevention committees to work with local agencies to establish better services for mistreated children.

The study also says that teenagers are often inadequately served by school personnel who lack the expertise to detect cases of abuse. Schools should train staff members to identify and refer victims of abuse and neglect to the appropriate agencies, it says.

Vol. 13, Issue 08

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