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13:27 PM

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Child Abuse

By Hank Puls, MD, Hospital Medicine


Economic recession and natural disasters have been associated with increases in child physical abuse, so we wanted to know if stressors related to the COVID-19 pandemic raised concerns that children might be at greater risk for physical abuse. The pandemic may have lead families to face job losses, economic stress, housing instability, social isolation, and friends and family falling ill. Researchers at University of California, San Francisco and Children’s Mercy examined emergency department visits and hospitalizations at 52 children’s hospitals during the first 5 months of the pandemic to investigate if children were more often diagnosed with physical abuse. Surprisingly, the findings suggested that infants and young children may have been abused less often compared to pre-pandemic years.

What we found at the start of the pandemic was a large drop in the number of children diagnosed with physical abuse at 52 children’s hospitals in the U.S. compared to prior years. Lower numbers of children diagnosed with physical abuse continued through August 31, 2020 (the end of the study). Although some parents may have forgone medical care due to concerns surrounding COVID, severe abusive injuries, such as abusive head trauma, would have been difficult for parents to avoid seeking care and were also decreased.

Overall, results from this study suggest, but do not prove, physical abuse may have actually occurred less often during the first 5 months of the pandemic compared to prior years. Resiliency among families and communities or financial support/protections from the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act may have helped protect children.

Further study will be needed to understand child abuse and neglect during the pandemic.


Read the full study here.