- Fewer cases of child maltreatment have been reported since schools shut down to help flatten the COVID-19 curve, according to a report published in the Social Science Research Network. The lower number of reports is likely due to educators no longer being in contact with students.
- The research uses county data from Florida showing the number of child maltreatment reports dropped 27% between March and April despite high levels of financial, mental and physical stress for parents and caregivers. The study suggests when children are not in school — whether for regular breaks or emergency shutdowns — they disconnect from safety nets of adults who recognize and report abuse.
- Underreporting of child maltreatment should be considered when evaluating the cost-benefit of pandemic-related school closures, according to the research. Implementing new strategies could reduce the amount of maltreatment, with ideas including virtual check-ins with students, government agencies easing maltreatment reporting protocols, and hotlines for nonprofessionals to report child abuse suspicions.
Staying home doesn’t mean staying safe for some children. As COVID-19 isolated families inside their homes and created the high-stress environment of job losses and health anxiety, at-risk children were left unprotected from abusers living in their homes. Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children’s Alliance, told MarketWatch the environment is a “perfect storm of increased access and increased family stress and financial pressure.”
Twenty percent of child abuse reports are filed by education personnel. The current reduction in reports is attributed to children’s disconnection from these personnel, and though these reports aren’t coming in per se, MarketWatch reports some states are seeing more documented cases of sexual abuse and abusive head trauma reports. While recessions exacerbate child abuse, the pandemic crisis also includes social isolation.
Similar drops in the number of reports also occur every year during summer breaks. In 2018, for instance, Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline calls dropped 23% from May to June, when school employees were no longer seeing children every day.
Keeping with social distancing requirements, virtual home visits give professionals continued access to children. Home safety checks are part of the visits, which can serve as a preventative approach by reaching families in their home environment. Not all families have access to devices and internet, however, and virtual visits work best when a strong relationship existed prior to the pandemic.