Children with disabilities are at an increased risk for maltreatment. However, the risk of maltreatment is unknown for children with specific types of birth defects. This study was conducted to determine whether the risk and predictors of maltreatment differ between children with and without 3 birth defects: Down syndrome, cleft lip with/without cleft palate, and spina bifida.
This population-based study of substantiated childhood maltreatment was conducted in Texas from 2002 to 2011. Linked data were used to describe the risk and types of maltreatment that occurred before age 2 years in children with and without specific birth defects. Poisson regression was used to identify predictors of maltreatment and assess differences in those predictors between children with and without these specific birth defects.
The risk of maltreatment (any type) in children with cleft lip with/without cleft palate and spina bifida was increased by 40% and 58%, respectively, compared with children with no birth defects. The risk of any maltreatment was similar between children with Down syndrome and unaffected children. Across birth defect groups, the risk of medical neglect was 3 to 6 times higher than in the unaffected group. Child-, family-, and neighborhood-level factors predicted maltreatment in children with and without birth defects.
The overall risk of substantiated maltreatment was significantly higher for some but not all birth defect groups. The factors associated with increased risk were similar across groups. Enhancement of existing maltreatment prevention and early intervention programs may be effective mechanisms to provide at-risk families additional support.