Spike in Severe Child Abuse Cases Likely Result of COVID-19
This article was updated on Sunday, March 22, 2020, to reflect the latest statistics and an additional quote from Dr. Coffman.
Doctors at Cook Children’s believe the stresses from the COVID-19 pandemic are linked to seven cases of severe child abuse seen at the hospital just this week. Two of those children have died. Typically, Cook Children’s sees this many such cases over the course of a month
All of the children admitted this week were under 4 years old.
"We usually only average six deaths from abuse a year at Cook Children's and now we've had two children die on the same day," said Jamye Coffman, medical director of the Cook Children’s Center for Prevention and Child Abuse and Neglect and the CARE team. "This is an issue related to stress. We are seeing it from all over from urban area to more rural counties."
For the providers who take care of these children, the news of this abuse didn’t come as a total surprise. During the recession in 2008/2009, Cook Children’s saw the leading cause of death from trauma change from motor vehicle crashes to abusive head trauma.
“We knew an increase in abuse was going to occur, but this happened faster than we ever imagined,” said Christi Thornhill, director of the Trauma Program, the CARE team and Fostering Health at Cook Children’s. “I mean this happened in a week and these are really bad abuse cases.”
Dr. Coffman believes these unprecedented times have simply become too much for some parents.
“People have so much increased stress right now,” Dr. Coffman said. “They’ve got financial stress. Some people lost their job or worried about keeping their current job. They lost their income. You’ve got stress from being overcrowded. Everyone’s cooped up together. They feel like they can’t get away from each other. These stressors can lead to abuse.”
Dr. Coffman said another factor is that people can’t get away from COVID-19 news. It’s on TV and social media constantly.
It’s more difficult to take your child to a grandparent or neighbor’s house right now. Kids aren’t going to school to give their parents some away time.
So what do you do now?
“Most of us know family members or neighbors we can reach out to when we know that maybe this is high stress situation,” Dr. Coffman said. “I think just maintaining some human connection is extremely important so people don’t feel isolated or people don’t feel as alone, which may reduce some of the anxiety and frustration. It may even be a phone call to somebody to say, ‘I’m having a hard time’ or even ‘my kids are driving me nuts.’”
Dr. Coffman emphasizes it’s normal to feel more frustrated because of the unknown and uncertain times, but when you feel frustrated, it’s Ok to ask for help or reach out and ask for advice.
"Stress is not an excuse for abusing your child, but rather we hope that caregivers can recognize their stress and ask for help rather than accelerate dangerous behaviors, and that others can recognize and intervene as well," Dr. Coffman added.
Childhelp.org offers a resource for both parents and children alike during this time. For this article, we called this organization. We were told they are currently available to help and welcome any phone calls. The National Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453.
Thornhill encourages people to get involved during this difficult time. The number one reporter of child abuse continues to be teachers, but kids aren’t seeing them right now.
“We worry about who will see abuse and report it right now,” Thornhill said. “That’s where we need neighbors and other family members to pay attention. If you hear the child next door screaming, call for help. All of us need to be involved. As much as most of us don’t want to, we all must make it our business.”
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, please contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (TDFPS) toll free at 1-800-252-5400, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You may also file a report using the secure TDFPS website. Reports made through this website take up to 24 hours to process. The Texas Abuse Hotline is 1-800-252-5400.
For more resources:
- The Center for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
- About The Center for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
- Early Detection of Child Abuse and Neglect Training
- Predicting Child Abuse and Neglect
- Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline