CHAPEL HILL - Painstaking analysis of a decade of homicides among children ages 10 and under in North Carolina shows vital records poorly reflect the number of child abuse deaths, according to a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study. The true number is more than three times higher than those records indicate.
Within homicide cases, most child abuse deaths in North Carolina could not be identified through computerized files, the study's principal investigator says. Records in other states likely are just as inaccurate since all states use the same international system of coding causes of death.
Researchers estimated that from 1985 through 1996, 9,467 homicides among U.S. children under age 11 resulted from abuse rather than the 2,973 reported, said Dr. Marcia E. Herman-Giddens, adjunct associate professor of maternal and child health at the UNC-CH School of Public Health.
"Using medical examiner data and extensive interviews with police and others, we found that significant under-reporting of child abuse homicides in vital records systems persists in spite of greater attention to abuse fatalities," Herman-Giddens said. "Improved recording of the incidence of these deaths should be a priority so that we can do a better job in monitoring and preventing them, especially given the rising abuse death rate. Deficiencies in recognizing abuse fatalities are due to the system and certain other causes, not lapses in vital records."
A report on the findings appears in the Aug. 4 issue of the Journal of
the American Medical Association. Other authors are Dr. Gail Brown, former
director the N.C. child fatality prevention team; Sarah Verbiest and Pamela J.
Carlson, project managers for the study; Elizabeth G. Hooten, statistician in
the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner; Eleanor Howell, statistician at the
N.C. Center for Health Statistics; and Dr. John D. Butts, N.C. chief medical
examiner and clinical
Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill