The pandemic has led to fewer child-abuse calls, raising concerns that incidents of harm are going unreported




a little girl flying a kite: The Broomfield Early Childhood Council observing National Child Abuse Prevention Month by planting a pinwheel garden in front of the library. Cliff Grassmick/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images


© Cliff Grassmick/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images
The Broomfield Early Childhood Council observing National Child Abuse Prevention Month by planting a pinwheel garden in front of the library. Cliff Grassmick/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

  • There have been fewer child welfare reports and child abuse investigations throughout the pandemic.
  • Experts worry that just means they’re missing child abuse cases, the Associated Press reported.
  • Reporting from school sources, who are mandated to report, dropped by 59% as students went online.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The pandemic has meant far fewer child welfare reports and child abuse investigations are being conducted, leaving millions of kids susceptible to harm with limited or late intervention, an Associated Press analysis found.

The AP found that compared to the previous year, there was an 18% decrease in child welfare concerns reported and child abuse investigations conducted. The time period between March and December 2020 saw 400,000 fewer child welfare concerns calls and 200,000 fewer investigations compared to the same time frame the year before.

Amy Harfeld, an expert in child abuse deaths with the Children’s Advocacy Institute, told the AP that the decline in calls and investigations doesn’t mean kids aren’t being harmed, it just means intervention is reaching those at risk later.

“Children who are experiencing abuse or neglect at home are only coming to the attention of CPS much further down the road than they normally would,” Harfeld said. “When families aren’t getting what they need, there are consequences for everyone.”

In Sacramento County, for example, Child Protective Services had 24% fewer calls into its Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline in 2020, the Sacramento Bee reported. CPS also opened 185 fewer cases during the pandemic compared to the year before.

The outlet reported that the trend can partly be attributed to the fact that teachers and school staff are usually the largest group of people mandated to report abuse. With students out of in-person learning, that’s been a challenge.

On a national scale, the AP found the reporting from school sources dropped by 59% as students went online.

Kurt Heisler, who oversaw the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System during the Obama administration, told the AP that “the pandemic and the resulting isolation reminds us that we cannot rely solely on a system that only responds after a child is hurt.”

Additionally, the Bee reported that the lockdown has limited medical care, which limited reporting as well since medical professionals are another category of mandated reporters.

While it’s not entirely clear if and by how much child abuse has increased during the pandemic, some studies suggest that injuries to those being abused are greater.

A study published in December by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that while the overall number of visits to the emergency department relating to child abuse and neglect went down in 2020, the percentage of those kids that were hospitalized as a result went up compared to 2019. The percentage increase was especially significant for kids 0-4 years old, who were hospitalized in 5.3% of the cases in 2020, compared to 3.5% in 2019.

In April of 2020, emergency room doctors told The Washington Post they were seeing more severe cases of child abuse in the first few months of the pandemic.

“What keeps me up at night is the children that we’re not seeing,” Angela Haslett, who works at the SafeSpot Children’s Advocacy Center in Fairfax, Virginia, told the Post.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at salarshani@insider.com

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