DOCTOR IS IN: Bad economic times means more child abuse

By Stephen Messner, M.D.

Child abuse — a term that encompasses neglect, physical and sexual abuse — increases with the presence of stressors in the home. These stressors can vary from economic tensions to a crying baby in the middle of the night.

In times of economic distress, the rate of child abuse increases; neglect being the highest. According to Georgia’s Protective Services Data System, 83 percent of abused children experienced neglect.

At Children’s, one of the child advocacy centers in Georgia, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of infants admitted to the hospital as a result of physical abuse. One of the most serious occurrences of this is abusive head trauma, also known as Shaken Baby Syndrome. This form of abuse is most commonly seen in 3- to 8-month-old infants at the hands of a caregiver.

Caregivers become upset under various types of stressors. This frustration can lead some of them to do things they normally would never think of doing — be physically abusive toward an infant.

To reduce the risk of displaced anger, caregivers need to set developmentally appropriate expectations for each child. The child’s age and stage of mental development are factors to keep in mind when responding to the child. Caregivers also need to understand that it is okay to leave the child in a safe location and walk away until they can calmly handle the situation.

In addition to neglect and physical abuse, many of Georgia’s children face sexual abuse. Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. In our society today, there are an estimated 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Georgia ranks 45th on the national scale of deaths linked to child abuse/neglect. Everyone can do their part to stand up for those who cannot protect themselves and detect signs of child abuse. Be vigilant of the injuries on kids. Injuries on protected areas, such as the back of legs or behind the ears, may be the result of something more serious than injuries encountered during normal play. Broken bones in children who have not begun to walk is another child abuse indicator.

There are many groups established to educate and inform, including Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, a great resource that offers a statewide helpline (1-800-CHILDREN). For more information on abusive head trauma, go to In addition, you may also refer to the seven-step plan devised by the Stewards of Children to learn about protecting a child from sexual abuse.

If you do suspect child abuse, please contact the local police or the Division of Family and Children Services to report the issue and save a child’s life.

Atlanta, what has been your experience? Share your stories, share your ideas. Post.


  • Stephen Messner, M.D., F.A.A.P, pediatrician with the Child Protection Team at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
  • For more information, go to the Children’s Child Protection Center.
  • (Information provided by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta on this site is intended solely for general educational purposes and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other health provider for any questions you may have regarding your health and medical condition. If you rely on any information available through this website, you do so at your own risk. You understand that you are solely responsible for any damage or loss you may incur that results from your use of or reliance on any material or information provided by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta through this website.)

13 comments Add your comment

Name (required)

April 8th, 2009
8:24 am

How about we quit filling up the jails with petty crimes like marijuana possession and lock these jackholes up for a few years. Then when they get cranky they can pick a fight with a 300lb cellmate who hasn’t had any action in quite some time. That’ll make him think twice about being a big man who is so manly he only beats up women and children.

Why is it you need a license to drive, fish, hunt, own a gun, cut hair, be an accountant, get married, etc….but any idiot off the street can knock up some slut and pop out a kid 7-9 months later? There needs to be a process where people have to be approved to bring a child into the world. Crazy.


April 8th, 2009
8:49 am

As a teacher I see a lot of neglect. When reported, I doubt it gets sent up to DFACS–someone deems it “not significant”. If it does go to DFACS, nothing seems to happen. I have been told “we cannot interfere with the way people raise their children”, like THAT is supposed to solve the child’s misery. Teachers are held accountable; I’d like to see others in the chain also held accountable TO THE TEACHERS who have reported.


April 8th, 2009
9:20 am

Please please please consider volunteering with your local CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) groups. As the number of abuse cases go up, that means the number of volunteers needed to support these kids need to go up too. It doesn’t take much of your time and does a world of good for these kids that need a stable caring adult in their life.


April 8th, 2009
9:33 am

It is unfortunate that many in the community are unaware of the procedures used by the Department of Family and Children Services. DFCS in and of itself can be a very intrusive process when a family becomes involved. There are no doubt times when one may think there should be involvement, however without that concrete proof there can be no more involvement. Many things that others may feel is neglect or maltreatment often times are due to the families economic level which may not be that of those around them. Unfortunately many people in the community may look down on others who are less fortunate and feel they are neglecting/abusing their children because those children have less than others. There is no doubt there are exceptions however, many times they may not have the perfect living situation but their basic needs are met (food, clothing, shelter). I wish that all could understand that DFCS is to help those in the community to ensure that the family can stay together whenever possible and not take away children. DFCS should never be involved with a family unless there is true risk or true abuse and neglect, not just because someone “thinks” that something is not right. Unfortunately it is impossible for any one agency to keep every child safe when there is so much negativity and education about what it is that DFCS does with the community. It would be very helpful that all who work with children get education about what child abuse and neglect looks like and how to identify without letting our own personal filters come into play.


April 8th, 2009
9:53 am

Excuses, excuses. People who abuse kids don’t need an excuse, just an opportunity. What’s next, to blame Bush? Too bad we aren’t more pro-active in our laws and not allow some people to procreate. We all know that some people just aren’t fit to be a parent, period….no way, no how but my goodness can you imagine the ACLU and others who’d be on the pavement screaming about people’s rights. DFACS? You’d subject a child to that confederacy of dunces? That, in itself is child abuse.

Sarah G

April 8th, 2009
10:06 am

I actually reported that a student was living in filth (there was dog feces in the house when I made a home visit). He would also be so hungry on Monday mornings that I kept crackers in my desk to feed him. I reported it to DFACS and they said it wasn’t enough neglect for them to investigate.

Sarah G

April 8th, 2009
10:07 am

Also, I was sexually abused as a child by my father and some of his friends. This was in the ’60’s. We were not rich but we never hurt for money. What was his excuse?

[...] mind you that the teacher and the child doctor also reported it – to date nothing has been done. DOCTOR IS IN: Bad economic times means more child abuse | Better Health __________________ Mahogany [...]


April 8th, 2009
11:13 am

God help these poor children. As a proud parent of a young son, I hope any parent that neglects or abuses a child is severly repremanded. I’m going to check out the above mentioned websites/organizations and see how I can get involved.


April 8th, 2009
12:29 pm

we need to help thes kids they need sooon as possible

The Nerd

April 9th, 2009
8:42 pm

God help the young!


April 13th, 2009
4:47 pm


April 15th, 2009
1:53 pm

This is an important issue, and the good news is that awareness is increasing, and there are more resources than ever to address the problems of abuse. For anyone who wants to learn more or to get involved, consider being training in the Darkness to Light child sexual abuse prevention training, led in Georgia by the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy. For $15 and 3 hours adults can learn how to prevent their children from becoming an easy target for pedophiles. People can also get involved by helping support organizations like the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy that respond to sexual and physical abuse by providing free services to child victims and education programs for adults. For more information, visit: