Children of Abused Moms have Greater Health Care Needs
> 12/17/2007 11:39:48 AM

When women suffer abuse at the hands of their partners, their physical and emotional injuries have lasting consequences. In a study published last year, researchers from Group Health, a Seattle-based health care system, found that women who had experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) had higher health care costs than women without a history of abuse. Five years after the abuse had ended, the total cost of their annual health care had not changed significantly. Now research has shown that the children of abused women also feel the physical and emotional impact. In a study also conducted by Group Health, researchers found that the children of abused women have greater health care needs than children of women who have never been abused.

The researchers, led by Dr. Frederick P. Rivera, compared the medical records of 1,391 children. The children's mothers also provided information about their experiences with abuse. The mothers of 631 of the children had suffered IPV, which includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, at some point in their lives. The overall cost of annual health care for the children born to these women was 11% higher than that of children whose mothers had never been abused. Children who directly witnessed the abuse had more primary care visits and used emergency room services more often while the abuse was ongoing. They were also three times more likely to use mental health services after the abuse had stopped. The study's results also indicate that even past abuse can affect a family's physical and mental well-being. Children who never actually witnessed IPV because the abuse ended before they were born still had higher health care costs overall than children whose mothers had no history of IPV.

In their previous study, the Group Health researchers found IVP to be very common. In a representative survey of 3,333 women, 1,546 reported having experienced IPV. Abuse has significant consequences for women and can lead to depression and other mental illnesses, poor physical health, poor social functioning, and even death. According to the CDC, 1,544 people, the majority of them women, died in 2004 as a result of IPV. When children experience such violence in the home, they are more likely to encounter problems at school, have poor health, take risks, and behave violently. Unfortunately, children who witness the abuse of a parent are also likely to be abused as well.

To combat the devastating outcomes of IPV, the researchers stress that physicians should screen their female patients for the signs of abuse and help not only the women but their children as well. Emotional and physical injuries survive long after the abuse has ended, and it is important that health care professionals help families affected by violence find the resources that can help them.

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