WASHINGTON (CBS WASHINGTON) — Child abuse injuries are on the rise.

More kids were hospitalized for serious injuries resulting from abuse in 2009 than in 1997, according to a new study – despite previous research suggesting fewer kids are maltreated now than in the past.

The findings are based on a survey of records from 2,500 or more U.S. hospitals conducted every three years. Researchers found the increase in serious injuries was due to more babies under a year old being hospitalized. The number of abused, injured kids and teenagers held relatively steady.

“We’re looking at the most seriously injured kids,” lead author Dr. John Leventhal, a pediatrician from the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, told Fox News.

Leventhal and his co-author Julie Gaither consulted kids’ hospital discharge forms for records of serious abuse, physical assault and shaken baby syndrome. They found the number of children hospitalized for those reasons increased slightly between 1997 and 2009, from 6.1 to 6.4 out of every 100,000.

“The kids who get hospitalized for physical abuse represent a very small proportion of all the children in the country who are physically abused,” he told Reuters Health – about two to four percent.

Those children were kept in the hospital for a week, on average. Their most common injuries were fractures, open wounds and traumatic brain injuries.

Babies are known to be at the highest risk of physical abuse. Based on this sample, the number of infants under one year old with a serious abuse-related injury increased from 56.2 to 62.3 per 100,000 each year.

“Infants tend to be hospitalized at a much higher rate than older children, and I think it’s because the injuries they sustain are much more serious,” Leventhal said.

Leventhal said doctors need to work extra hard at catching the early signs of child abuse – as well as teaching parents how to deal with stressful moments without turning to violence.

His advice to parents at the end of their rope: “Step back, walk away, get help.”


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