Study Links Friday Report Cards to Child Abuse

(CN) – A new study out of Florida found that incidents of child abuse increase after the release of school report cards on Fridays.

Child abuse increases the day after school report cards are released – but only when kids get their grades on a Friday, according to a Florida study released on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

A study published Monday in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, based on evidence from Florida schools during the 2015-16 academic year, found that child abuse increased almost four times on Saturdays when school report cards were released the day before.  

An analysis that included 1,943 cases of verified child physical abuse showed that abuse reports arose at a higher rate on Saturdays when report cards were released on Fridays, compared to Saturdays when no report cards were released the previous day.  

“Although corporal punishment is legal in every US state and often a common practice, it is also a source of toxic stress and a leading risk factor for physical abuse,” according to the JAMA study, which used empirical proof to support anecdotal evidence.   

The study focused on children ages 5 to 11 in public schools across Florida. 

“Strong anecdotal evidence from physicians and other professionals working in child protection suggest that punishment-initiated physical abuse for school-aged children increases after release of report cards,” the report states.

The study relied on state child-abuse hotline calls to the Florida Department of Children and Families Abuse and school report card release dates during the 2015-2016 academic year.

It found no connection between incidence rates of physical abuse and school report card releases on Monday through Thursday, but observed a nearly four-fold increase in abuse incidents on Saturdays following a Friday report card release.

“One possibility for this unique finding is that when report cards are released earlier in the week, caregivers are distracted by other activities such a work and caring for other children,” the report states. “Thus, caregivers may not have the same opportunities to react negatively to a child’s report card when released on a Monday through Thursday. Another possibility is that caregivers may avoid harsh punishment when children will have guaranteed exposure to mandated reporters (eg, teachers) the following day.” (Parentheses in original.)

Melissa A. Bright, Ph.D., of the University of Florida, Gainesville, who led the study, said in an interview Tuesday that researchers did not include specific recommendations for how to fix the issue, just the evidence.

“The present study illustrates that child abuse incidence and prevention may be usefully considered at a more macroscopic level,” the report concludes. “To the extent that children who receive poor report cards are punished by their caregivers and that this punishment sometimes crosses the line to physical abuse, several school district–level or state-level policy changes could be made to reduce the likelihood of physical abuse.”

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