Dads break or fracture the bones of their children far more often than moms, and they tend to inflict their abusive rage on infants younger than five months old, according to a study in Child Abuse & Neglect.
The abuse can be horrific. In one study case, a child suffered 31 broken or fractured bones.
Almost 68 percent of the children presented with other abusive injuries, including burns, abrasions, bruises or head trauma.
The study underscores the need to boost efforts to target males for child abuse prevention programs, said Suzanne Starling, a forensic pediatrician for the Child Abuse Program at Children’s Hospitals of The King’s Daughters.
“If prevention efforts remain targeted primarily at women, a large proportion of perpetrators will not be reached,” Starling wrote. “Alternative prevention efforts must be sought.”
Broken and fractured bones rank as the second most common presentation of child abuse in the United States, after inflicted brain trauma. More than 30 percent of children evaluated in emergency rooms for suspected child abuse have either acute or healing fractures.
Earlier studies of inflicted brain trauma had identified biological fathers as the most common perpetrator. This study adds to the evidence that biological fathers, and males in general, pose the gravest risk to children.
The study involved reviewing records of 194 child victims who were evaluated at hospitals for broken or fractured bones. Physicians found 630 fractures in those patients. Perpetrators were identified in 153 cases.
In 69 of the 153 cases, fractures were inflicted by the child’s biological father, compared with 26 children whose fractures were caused by the biological mother. In 20 cases, the child’s fractures were inflicted by the mother’s boyfriend.
Surprisingly, victims of fathers were younger than victims of mothers. The average age of infants who suffered inflicted skeletal trauma perpetrated by males was just 4.5 months, compared to 10 months for female perpetrators.
“It is often suggested that great strength is required to fracture a child’s bones” creating the assumption that females would “commonly injure the more fragile children,” the study states. This study finds that conventional wisdom to be untrue.
The finding that men harm younger children “may reflect men’s frustration and discomfort with parenting of very small children.
“Men may be less experienced in handling infants, may not understand normal infant crying patterns, or may be uncomfortable changing soiled diapers.”
The study also noted a spike in fractures by all perpetrators when the child is about two years old, at time when the children become more independent and may begin toilet training.