Current Events

Child abuse reports are down. Here’s why that’s cause for concern.

Elisabeth Balistreri

Domestic violence isn't getting better, it's just not getting reported. In fact, it's actually getting worse.

For months we’ve seen the warning signs of the impact of COVID-19 on children in abusive homes. Early on, experts on domestic violence warned that the external pressures of unemployment, stress, and fear from the virus combined with stay at home orders could exacerbate abuse in previously violent homes.

Our fears were confirmed when we saw anecdotal reports of spikes in child abuse hospitalizations and deaths across the country; Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth saw seven severe infant and child abuse cases of the course of five days in March. This hospital typically sees 10 fatal child abuse cases in a year, but over the course of this harrowing week, they saw two children die from their injuries.

Michigan DHHS recently released data on child abuse between February and April, and striking changes in both the number of child abuse reports and confirmed cases clearly show the impact this pandemic has had on children in abusive homes.

Child abuse reports have plummeted 45% between February and April, but confirmed child abuse cases have only dropped 15.6%.

Domestic violence isn’t getting better, it’s just not getting reported. In fact, it’s actually getting worse.

The confirmation rate for abuse investigations has increased by 7%.

School closings and stay at home orders help explain the drop in child abuse reporting. Children have been isolated from mandated reporters; no one is there to see the signs of abuse and get these children the help they need.

Child abuse cases falling through the cracks is nothing new in the U.S., but this pandemic sheds new light on the problem as COVID regulations have created a perfect storm for unaddressed domestic violence. Creative solutions are desperately needed in this field, and it’s up to everyone to think and work differently during these unprecedented times. We’re hopeful that this will be the catalyst for sweeping reforms that better protect our children.

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