There are, no doubt, pros and cons to opening schools. On one hand, if we open schools quickly, we have the potential to introduce new hotspots and increase community spread.
On the other hand, schools are fundamental to childhood development. Kids also rely on schools for reliable meals, mental health services, social support, physical activity, and safety. In my line of research, kids rely on teachers to detect and report alleged abuse. Of those that “catch” child abuse, the majority are teachers (21% are teachers, 19% are law enforcement, 11% are social services, and 11% are medical personnel).
My colleagues and I are continually working to understand how the COVID19 pandemic (and specifically stay-at-home orders/school closure) impact child abuse. On July 22, I provided preliminary data. Here is an update…
Figure 1 shows doctor visits in which physicians diagnosed child abuse in 2020 compared to 2019. In March/April, there was an alarming drop in the number of kids going to the hospital for child abuse. Unfortunately, though, we hypothesize that this isn’t because child abuse was getting better, but rather because kids were interacting less with mandatory reporters (i.e. teachers). Among kids that WERE going to the hospital for child abuse, physicians reported even MORE severe injuries (traumatic brain injuries, intentional burns) than before the pandemic. Typically, a hospital system has 5-10 child abuse deaths per year. It is not uncommon for a hospital to report 2 child abuse deaths/week in 2020.
Recently, though, we have seen child abuse hospital visits start to increase. In Aug 2020, there were 309 visits (compared to 359 visits in Aug 2019). Our next step is to analyze what is causing this increase. My hypothesis is that it’s because schools are opening.
This pandemic is stressful. Period. And the strains and stresses (like job loss, financial struggles, food insecurity, mental health, and lack of social support) are penetrating homes. Child abuse prevention can start at home. The Prevent Child Abuse America posted some fantastic resources for parents, children, educators and everyone else. This includes tips for staying connected to the community, tips for staying engaged as a family, and tips to manage stress and anxiety. Check it out: https://preventchildabuse.org/coronavirus-resources/.
Love, your local (violence) epidemiologist
Data Source: Data comes from my lab in which we are working directly with pediatric hospitals. Data is not published; this is only a high-level preliminary report for my community. We are working on it!