COVID-19 has created an environment in which child abuse can more easily fly under the radar, according to a story in the Washington Post.
The statistics are so far believed to be misleading.
A nationwide survey has revealed that children advocacy centers have seen 40,000 fewer cases between January 2020 and June 2020 compared to the same time span last year. The National Children Alliance says this is a 21 percent decline.
This does not mean child abuse has become less of a problem, experts warn.
The Executive Director of the National Children’s Alliance says, “What we really believe is that there are 40,000 fewer kids that haven’t been saved from abuse.”
In fact, some experts believe that abuse may be more prevalent during the pandemic.
Under-reporting could be caused by children having less access to the community members most likely to notice child abuse.
Summer camps and daycare facilities are closed, and fewer children are going to the doctor, but the most significant missing group is educators. Teachers were responsible for 21 percent of referrals to child protective services in 2018.
Children are also more vulnerable to abuse and neglect during the pandemic because of increased stress on parents, says Yo Jackson, Ph.D., associate director of Child Maltreatment Solutions Network at Penn State.
The financial strain increases the risk of abuse and neglect, says Amy Damasheck, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology studying child maltreatment at Western Michigan University.
Adding to that storm, children themselves are more vulnerable to stress during the pandemic.
“Stressed parents may be more likely to respond to their children’s anxious behaviors or demands in aggressive or abusive ways,” the American Psychological Association reports.
In April, The Washington Post reported that, during COVID, the child abuse cases coming to light have often been severe enough to put the child in the intensive care unit or emergency room.
A spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Leigh Vinocur said doctors around the country report they are treating more severe injuries in a week than they usually do in a month.
Pennsylvania is seeing this trend play out in younger victims as well.
“Pennsylvania doctors who treat child abuse say they are seeing a wave of more serious injuries in younger victims,” the York Daily Record reported late August.
According to Pennsylvania state data, 155 children died or almost died due to suspected child abuse or neglect from January 1 to July 15 of 2020 in comparison to 144 in the entirety of 2019.