New UniSA research unpacks link between childhood abuse and later hospitalisation
The Sector > Quality > In The Field > New UniSA research unpacks link between childhood abuse and later hospitalisation

New UniSA research unpacks link between childhood abuse and later hospitalisation

by Freya Lucas

July 15, 2020

UniSA researchers have found that children who were the subject of child protective services contact, are up to 52 per cent more likely to be hospitalised by their mid-teens than their peers.


The most frequent reasons for hospitalisation were mental illness, toxic effects of drugs and physical injuries, underlying the long-term impacts of child abuse and neglect and the importance of protecting children from an early age to prevent ongoing health problems.


Published in international journal, Child Abuse and Neglect, the world-first study examined the impact of child abuse and neglect from data covering 608,540 South Australian-born children since 1986.


“The research shows that the system is identifying children who are at risk, but there is not enough happening to support these children and their families early and as they enter adulthood,” said lead author Dr Emmanuel Gnanamanickam.


The research found that by the age of 16.5 years, children who had at some time been placed in out of home care (OOHC) had an average of 7.7 hospital admissions, about four times the mean of 2.0 for children who had never had contact with child protective services (CPS).


Unfortunately the impact continues beyond adolescence. People aged between 15 and 32 years, who had contact with CPS in their childhood, had two to four times more hospitalisations than those with no contact. Children with substantiated child abuse or neglect claims and who had entered OOHC were shown to be at the highest risk.

“The study indicates that there are long-term health and mental health consequences for children experiencing abuse and neglect and that those impacts are felt even by children whose cases are not elevated by the child protection system,” Dr Gnanamanickam said.

“Rates of hospitalisation for children who are placed in OOHC, because these cases are the most serious, are highest, and further research is required to unpack how the elements of abuse and neglect interact with removal from family, to ensure the negative outcomes for these children can be mitigated as far as possible,” he added. 


Fellow UniSA researcher and lead investigator of the iCAN (impacts of child abuse and neglect) project, Professor Leonie Segal, said the key take home message from the research is that better access to high quality infant, child and adolescent mental health services must be a critical part of any effective intervention strategy.


“Differences in hospitalisation start in infancy, highlighting the need to pursue opportunities for preventing child maltreatment and protecting children from harm from an early age,” she noted. 


“Clearly more needs to be done to support troubled families and this is something that requires an integrated approach that would see child protection working with the wider human services sector to ensure that effective, cross-agency strategies are available from early in life.  


“Not only is there an ethical imperative to improve the health and wellbeing of our most vulnerable children across the life course, doing better to address child maltreatment and prevent associated harms, presents a considerable hospitalisation prevention opportunity.” 


To read the research in full, please see here

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