Family violence rising: Is recession a cause?

? Some hospitals report seeing more than twice as many shaken babies as a year ago. Deaths from domestic violence have increased sharply in areas.

Calls to domestic-violence hotlines have risen too, and more than half the callers said their families’ financial situation has changed recently.

Across the country, these and other signs point to another troubling effect of the recession: The American home is becoming more violent, and the ailing economy could be at least partially to blame.

“Our children and families are suffering,” said Alane Fagin, who runs a Long Island nonprofit group called Child Abuse Prevention Services. “With more layoffs expected, the threat of foreclosure looming over so many and our savings disappearing, even the best parents can feel stressed out and overwhelmed.”

Nationwide government data will not be compiled for months, so the evidence suggesting an uptick in child abuse and domestic violence has been largely anecdotal.

But the Child Welfare League of America, a coalition of public and private agencies, has been surveying state child welfare agencies to determine whether the numbers reflect a spike in violence.

“I think a lot of people are very concerned that we are in the early phases of this,” said Linda Spears, vice president for policy and public affairs.

Eighty-eight percent of law enforcement officials surveyed nationwide believe the recession has led, or will lead, to more child abuse and neglect, according to top police officials from Los Angeles, Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia who recently held a news conference in Washington.

“Those of us on the front lines of law enforcement know that there is a correlation between economic distress and increased child abuse and neglect,” said Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. “We have to get in front of this problem now.”

Not everyone is convinced domestic violence and child abuse are increasing.

“So far from what I’ve read there is no evidence that is the case,” said Ben Tanzer of Chicago-based Prevent Child Abuse. “Certainly we’re concerned that certain communities may be in crisis, but we just don’t know.”