June 26 (UPI) -- At least one in seven children in the United States has been abused or neglected in the last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the vast majority of those cases, the children were abused by a male caregiver, according to a study published Wednesday in The Journal of Pediatrics.
"Given that we found strong associations between certain caregiver features and the likelihood of abuse, it is vitally important for clinicians evaluating the child to ask about who was present at the time of injury," Mary Clyde Piece, a researcher from Children's Hospital of Chicago and study principal investigator, said in a news release.
The researchers analyzed injury data of more than 1,600 children under age 4 who visited emergency departments. About 77 percent of those children were abused and almost always at the hands of a male caregiver, according to the study.
In contrast, children are far less likely to suffer injuries from female babysitters.
"Through a better understanding of caregiver features, screening for child abuse can be refined, evidence-informed clinical decisions can be made, prevention efforts can be focused on populations at greatest risk and policies can be tailored accordingly," Piece said.
Each year, 1,700 children die from child abuse, but the researchers hope their findings will bring more awareness to the problem.
"Child abuse prevention efforts frequently target mothers, but our study confirms previous research that the presence of male caregivers poses a greater risk of abuse, so the focus must shift for prevention strategies to be successful," Pierce said.
"Future prevention strategies also should educate parents that leaving their young children in the care of people unfamiliar with the challenges of caregiving, even for brief periods of time, can be dangerous," he added.