Child abuse rates are on the rise in Spokane County, according to a recent report by the Spokane Regional Health District.
“We’re actually statistically significantly higher than what the state rate is,” said Elaine Conley, director of the district’s Community and Family Service programs. “It’s just a significant problem in Spokane County.”
In 2011, there were 5,264 victims of child abuse in Spokane County, the report found. That’s a rate of 48.1 per 1,000 children ages 0-17. For the state over the same period, the rate was 33.7 per 1,000 children.
The report, titled “Healthy Families, Better Beginnings,” looks at maternal health, birth outcomes, health of women of childbearing age, childhood health and family health in Spokane County compared with Washington state.
“I think a lot of it has to do with this common thread that runs throughout this report,” Conley said of the rise in abuse. “A lot of that is based on adverse childhood experiences.”
Adverse childhood experiences are traumatic stressors that occur in childhood and negatively impact future health. They include abuse or neglect as a child; domestic violence against the mother; a household member with a substance abuse problem or mental illness, or who has been incarcerated; and parental separation or divorce. As the number of reported adverse experiences increases, the risk for poor health outcomes – including alcohol abuse, depression and drug use – increases likewise.
Conley said adverse childhood experiences are “one of the worst public health issues we have.”
Other findings include:
• Nearly half of Spokane County births were to women on Medicaid.
• Eight percent of births were to teenage mothers, similar to Washington’s rate.
• Nearly 16 percent of births in Spokane County in 2011 were to mothers who smoked, significantly higher than Washington’s rate.
• The proportion of births where the mother was obese before pregnancy increased significantly from 2007 to 2011 in Spokane County.
• More than one in three births was an unintended pregnancy in Spokane County from 2006 to 2010. The statewide rate was similar.
• Nearly a quarter of family households in Spokane County had a female head of house with no husband present.
• Vaccine-preventable illness was significantly higher in Spokane County than statewide.
• In 2010, nearly a quarter of youth in Spokane County had a low quality of life. Compared with whites, blacks were significantly more likely to have a low quality of life.
The report recommends mitigating the impacts of adverse childhood experiences on children and families, supporting the health of women during preconception and pregnancy, ensuring children are ready to enter school and addressing income and health inequities.
“There is no single agency that can resolve these problems,” Conley said. “It’s really going to take a collective impact from the community to make inroads to improving the health of families in Spokane County.”