Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Fatal injuries in children: Comparing households

In Brief

Fatal injuries in children: Comparing households

Children who live in households with unrelated persons are nearly 50 times more likely than children living with biological parents to die of an injury inflicted in the home. That's the finding of a survey including all children under age 5 who died in Missouri during an eight-year period in the 1990s. The data come from the Missouri Child Fatality Program.

To make the comparison, investigators matched each of the 149 children who died of injuries with two children who died of natural causes at the same age. They looked at households containing only biological relatives (one parent or two), those with stepparents or foster parents, and those with a biological parent and an unrelated adult, usually a boyfriend.

Most of the children who died from injuries inflicted by adults were infants (under age 1). Compared to those who died of natural causes, they were more likely to have young, unmarried, poor black mothers with less than a high school education who had received little or no prenatal care. The family was more likely to have been reported to child protective services before the death.

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