Child Abuse Reports Down Sharply During Pandemic

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - 6:47am

An Associated Press analysis of state data found that during the coronavirus pandemic, child abuse reports, investigations, substantiated allegations and interventions have dropped at a staggering rate, increasing risks for the most vulnerable of families. There were 400,000 fewer child welfare concerns reported during the pandemic and 200,000 fewer child abuse and neglect investigations and assessments compared with the same period in 2019. That represents a national total decrease of 18 perecent in both total reports and investigations. AP requested public records from all 50 state child welfare agencies and analyzed more than a dozen indicators in 36 states. Not every state supplied data for total reports or investigations. The analysis compared the first nine months of the pandemic — March to November 2020 — with the same time period from the two previous years. There are signs in some states that suggest officials are dealing with urgent and complex cases during the pandemic.

A loss in reports means greater potential for harm because "there has not all of the sudden been a cure for child abuse and neglect," said Amy Harfeld of the Children's Advocacy Institute. "Children who are experiencing abuse or neglect at home are only coming to the attention of [child protection agencies] much further down the road than they normally would," Harfeld said. "When families aren't getting what they need, there are consequences for everyone." With many children out of the public eye, the U.S. system of relying on teachers, police and doctors to report potential abuse and neglect to Child Protective Services has been failing. A diabetic 15-year-old Wisconsin girl died of medical complications despite 16 CPS reports in her lifetime and an 8-year-old Nevada boy mistakenly drank a chemical substance stored in a soda bottle. School personnel are the top child abuse reporters. Teachers, administrators, counselors, coaches, nurses and other adults working in school settings are trained to identify warning signs and mandated by law to report potential issues of child abuse or neglect. The AP found that child abuse and neglect reports from school sources fell 59 percent during the pandemic as the U.S. pivoted to online learning. By comparison, there was a four percent decline of reports nationally from non-school report sources. In many states, school reports remained below pre-pandemic numbers even when some in-person instruction resumed.

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