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University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)

Child Abuse and COVID-19

UNLV child advocacy expert Amanda Haboush-Deloye examines the pandemic’s impact on abused youth, and how medical professionals and others can help reverse the trend in unreported cases.

Continued school closures and distance learning have drawn more than the ire of parents and teachers concerned about the impacts to education. Child advocates are worried about the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on youth stuck at home with their abusers.

For months, researchers tracking data from across Nevada and the nation have been logging significant dips in child abuse reports — a phenomenon attributed to the lack of face time children are getting with teachers, who are trained to spot potential signs of maltreatment and required by law to report it to authorities.

Amanda Haboush-Deloye is the interim executive director of the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy (NICRP) at UNLV’s School of Public Health and the director of programs for Prevent Child Abuse Nevada.

Here, she explains the impact of public health lockdown orders on child abuse reports, signs of violence and neglect that loved ones should look out for, and how medical professionals and others can help protect children and obtain assistance for victims.

How has the pandemic — and resulting stay-at-home orders — impacted reports of child abuse by teachers, neighbors, relatives, and children themselves? 

Calls to child protective services experienced a significant drop at the beginning of the pandemic, with an approximate 40% dip in calls statewide. This decrease was more prominent in April and May; however, the numbers in June were very similar to previous years. This is an indicator that during the school year, children are seen by more adults who spot signs of abuse and report it. 

What do statistics show regarding the number of child abuse cases reported during the pandemic in Nevada and nationwide? What about data comparing the severity of injuries before and during the pandemic?

It's still a bit early to tell. Thus far, confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect have not risen during the pandemic in Nevada. And while other states seem to have been reporting an increase in severe child abuse relate injuries seen in emergency rooms, Nevada has not. However, it is important to remember that the majority of child maltreatment cases, approximately 70%, are related to neglect — and with families in financial crisis, limited hours for accessing services, and the inability for some to leave the house, this is a serious concern. It is crucial that we increase resources to support families such as financial assistance, improve access to safe child care services for those who have to work, and provide families with essential goods such as food and cleaning supplies.  

With the usual avenues for reporting child abuse cases upended by the pandemic, what role have pediatricians and hospitals played in rooting out violence against children?  

While it is not apparent that there has been an increase in abuse cases in Nevada emergency rooms, pediatricians and hospitals still play a key role in keeping children and families safe. During this pandemic, medical professionals may be some of the only professionals who see a child and their caregivers in person. It is very important that medical professionals take the time to assess how children and caregivers are faring during the pandemic in order to connect the family with any needed resources or to identify whether the child is unsafe and may need an immediate intervention. While medical professionals are mandated reporters, training for recognizing and reporting child maltreatment unfortunately is not required. There are online classes available for medical professionals to help them refresh their knowledge in this area and obtain new information on ways to assess child maltreatment during in-person and virtual visits. 

Do you have tips on signs to look for to help determine whether a child you know may be experiencing abuse?

It is very difficult to determine the extent that children are experiencing abuse or neglect when they are not in the presence of adults who are trained to look for signs and symptoms of maltreatment. However, it is still crucial that adults take the responsibility to protect our children. While it can be more challenging during this time of social isolation there are things that can be done. Adults can make sure to check in regularly with children in their lives, especially teachers and other adults that may have an existing trusted relationship with the child. Ask questions such as how are you feeling today? How are you feeling about school? Do you have anything that is making you worry or scared? In addition, try to communicate in a manner that allows you to see the child and their environment, such as using Facetime, Zoom or another video platform, so you can better determine if there is a change in the child’s mood or behavior, or if it seems like the environment might not be safe. While signs of concern may not be maltreatment, there could be other things going on with the child and/or the family in which they need support. 

In addition, make sure the entire family unit is supported during these challenging times. By ensuring that the family is physically and mentally healthy, the children will be in a healthier environment. 

Families are going to need assistance after the pandemic as well. Communities, advocates, and policymakers should prioritize the needs of families to help our society recover. 

How can someone who suspects that a child they know is in danger make a report? 

It can be very frightening as a youth to have a friend or someone you know in danger. It can also feel like sharing this information with an adult might break the trust of a friend or get someone in trouble. But it is important to know that the safety of a life might depend on a trusted adult knowing what is going on to be able to help. If a youth is in danger or knows someone in danger, they should tell a trusted adult right away. If they do not have someone they feel comfortable talking to, then the youth can always call or make a report on Safe Voice Nevada, dial 311 or 911 if it is an emergency, or call child protective services to talk to an intake specialist. This is the same for adults: If there is any suspicion that a child is unsafe, call child protective services and make a report. The professionals will determine whether an investigation is needed. That one phone call could save a child’s life.  

You can find more information here.

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