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Intimate partner violence affects the abused women as well as the care use and costs of their children

Over 40 percent of women suffer from intimate partner violence (IPV)—physical or sexual abuse, threats, or controlling behaviors—during their adult lives. A new study found that their children also suffer. Children of women who are or have been abused by their partners seek more mental and other health care than children of nonabused mothers. This is true even of children whose mothers were abused before they were born.

A group of researchers compared health care use and costs of 760 children of mothers with no history of IPV with 631 children of mothers with a history of IPV over an 11-year period (1992-2003). Nearly 47 percent of the women reported having suffered from some type of IPV as an adult.

Health care use and costs were greater for children of mothers with a history of IPV and were significantly greater for mental health services, primary care visits and costs (15 percent higher), and laboratory costs. Even after IPV was reported to have ended, children of abused mothers were three times more likely to use mental health services and had 16 percent higher primary care costs than did children of nonabused mothers, although their overall costs were no higher.

Children whose mothers' abuse ended before the children were born used significantly more mental health, primary care, specialty care, and pharmacy services than did children whose mothers had not been abused, and their care costs were 24 percent higher than children of nonabused mothers.

One important limitation of the study was that the researchers did not know if the children were also abused. The study was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10909).

See "Intimate partner violence and health care costs and utilization for children living in the home," by Frederick P. Rivara, M.D., M.P.H., Melissa L. Anderson, M.S., Paul Fishman, Ph.D., and others, in the December 2007 Pediatrics 120, pp. 1270-1277.

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