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COVID19 and child abuse

Thought I would sprinkle some of my own research in this blog because…why not?

For those of you that don’t know, I am a violence and injury epidemiologist. My research lab focuses on how violence is contagious (just like infectious diseases) and predictable. Because if it’s predictable, then it’s preventable.

As we ALL know by now, COVID19 has not only caused major medical problems in our community but has caused social problems. The strains and stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic (like job loss, financial struggles, food insecurity, mental health, and lack of social support) have exacerbated the risk of violence at home.

My colleagues and I are continually working to understand how the stay-at-home orders/school cancelled impacts child abuse.

Figure 1 shows the impact of COVID19 on child abuse hospital visits in 2020 compared to 2019. Briefly, we found less kids are going to the hospital for child abuse after stay at home orders compared to last year. Unfortunately, though, we hypothesize that this isn’t because child abuse is getting better, but rather because kids are interacting less with mandatory reporters (i.e. teachers, daycare teachers) and the public.

Among kids that ARE going to the hospital for child abuse, physicians are reporting 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 now report 2 child abuse deaths in one week.

The realities of this crisis are immediate. Researchers and clinicians are working hard to urgently address this public health crisis in real-time. 

Prevention can also 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/.

These efforts are especially relevant given that a lot of schools are delaying in-person school. While this delay is desperately needed medically, it will have an impact on kids’ health and safety. 

Love, your local (violence) epidemiologist

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. We are working on it!

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