Welsh research has found that abused babies are at much greater risk of experiencing further abuse

New Welsh research has found that abused babies are at greater risk of experiencing further abuse, with 30% being re-abused within three years. This new research is featured in the current issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood, a BMJ Specialist Journal.

Using surveillance data from paediatricians and child protection registers in Wales, the researchers identified 69 babies who had been abused before the age of 12 months. These children were monitored for the next three years (1999 to 2001), using information gleaned from health and social services.

Of the 69 babies, five died from their abuse and one child went abroad and could not be traced. Fourteen of the babies were permanently removed from their homes, although one was re-abused during a contact visit.

Of the remaining 49 babies allowed to return home after child protection investigations had taken place, 15 were abused again within three years, a rate of 31%, which is much higher than that for the general population.

The abuse involved physical violence in eight of the children, including a fractured thigh bone in one case, and neglect in seven.

Among the 15 subjected to further abuse, 12 were allowed to return home once more. Three of these children were abused again, three times, in one case, making a total of five times for that child.

Information on how the siblings of these babies had been treated both before and after the first episode of abuse was also collected.

The whole group of 69 abused babies had 39 siblings born before their abuse, 11 of whom had already been abused themselves. And there were 'serious child protection concerns' usually from a health visitor in a further eight.

The 49 babies allowed to return home after their abuse had 63 siblings in total between them. Eleven of these from seven families were re-abused within the three year monitoring period.

Babies coming from families with a history of domestic violence and mental illness were more likely to be abused.

"All this represents a serious failure in secondary prevention in babies where the consequences can be death and disability," say the authors. "We must focus child protection services more on actually protecting babies and be more cautious where intervention involves their reintroduction to their families."

Many social workers and health visitors are not trained to recognise that babies who have been abused before are at greater risk of subsequent abuse, they say.

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