Child abuse and neglect hotlines report a decline in calls in recent weeks. While normally good news, it doesn’t bode well during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, an expert said.
“Normally, a decrease in calls about alleged child abuse and neglect or maltreatment would be a welcome start to child abuse prevention month, but the context of current declines is worrisome,” said Melissa Jonson-Reid, professor of social work research at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Both theory and data suggest that stress and poverty are powerful contributors to child abuse and neglect.”
“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis is increasing both psychological stress and economic strain. The very few studies we have on the impact of disasters on rates of child maltreatment suggest that there may be a link.”
While recent reports raise the possibility that the declines might be due to school closures, Jonson-Reid thinks more is going on.
“The typical drop we see due to schools closing in summer is too small to explain the reported drops of 30 percent to 70 percent across various states,” she said. “During stay-at-home orders, children go unseen by a host of possible reporters.”
“It is imperative that we do everything we can to be aware of the well-being of children in our communities. Social distancing need not prevent phone calls or emails to neighbors and family, help with groceries for those who cannot get out, and providing clear messages to families about where to get resources for parenting and meeting basic needs.”
In addition to the many regional efforts, she said, Prevent Child Abuse America has a number of tips and resources related to COVID-19 for parents, children, service providers, and the community on its website.
After social distancing ends, it is possible there will be a surge in reports across the country as children return to daycares, visit relatives, see their doctors, attend schools, and so on.