CDC reports uptick in child abuse-related hospitalizations amid pandemic


Mounting stress, job losses, school closures, isolation and other factors have all compounded to raise the risk of child abuse and neglect amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Earlier this spring, the medical community sounded the alarm that significantly fewer people were seeking emergency care for any cause, likely over fears of catching coronavirus infection. 

In a report released Friday, the federal health agency said visits to the emergency department (ED) for reasons related to child abuse and neglect plummeted by 53% in early 2020 over the same period in 2019. The CDC said this mirrors an even greater dropoff in all ED visits among younger patients at around 71%-72%.

However, related hospitalizations significantly increased.

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“Despite the ongoing pandemic, caregivers were more likely to take children to EDs for evaluation of complaints related to child abuse and neglect relative to other chief complaints. This pattern might reflect decreased health care–seeking for other medical complaints or a need to seek medical care because of persistence or worsening of child abuse and neglect,” reads the report.

Therefore, the CDC cited a “shift” in care-seeking patterns amid the pandemic, and the severity of child abuse-related injuries was just as severe, if not more so.

“Child abuse is preventable; implementation of strategies including strengthening household economic supports and creating family-friendly work policies can reduce stress during difficult times and increase children’s opportunities to thrive in safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments,” the report continues.

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Also, kids’ less frequent in-person contact with teachers, social workers and doctors amid the pandemic translated up to a 70% nationwide drop in reporting abuse and neglect to child protection agencies.

The CDC analyzed data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP) from Jan. 6, 2019, to Sept. 6, 2020.

Visits to the emergency room for child abuse and neglect began to drop during the same week the country declared the pandemic in mid-March, the agency said. Charts show the number of weekly ED visits dropped from around 1,000 to 400 in the weeks shortly preceding and following the declaration of the pandemic. The figures have since risen, and in the most recent weeks with available data, weekly ED visits exceeded 800.

Child abuse and neglect can harm kids’ physical and mental health in the short-term and over the long-term, the CDC said, calling for more research to better understand the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on abuse and neglect.

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