Penn State Health

The Medical Minute: The heightened risk of child abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic

6-May-2020 5:30 PM EDT, by Penn State Health

Newswise — While social distancing has been necessary to keep us as safe as possible from getting — and spreading — COVID-19, the resulting economic and emotional fallout has added significant stress to families. Even more unfortunate, these factors raise the risk of child abuse at a time when traditional avenues for intervention are impeded.

The latest information from ChildLine, the statewide child protective services program that receives child abuse referrals, shows a 30% to 50% decrease in reports of suspected child abuse from the three weeks prior to the state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions to the first three weeks of cancellations and closures. Unfortunately, this does not correlate with a decline in child abuse, according to Dr. Lori Frasier, chief of the Division of Child Abuse Pediatrics at Penn State Children’s Hospital.

“Most reports to ChildLine are made by mandated reporters — teachers, doctors and psychologists, daycare providers — those who work with children,” said Frasier, who collaborates with medical care providers and specialists to review conditions or injuries in pediatric patients to help determine whether they might have resulted from abuse. “As children remain isolated in their homes with their families, they lack that safety net of mandated reporters who are obligated under the law to report their reasonable suspicion that child abuse has occurred.”

Without regular intervention prompted by outside observers, there is a significant risk for more serious trauma to an abused child.

“A bruise seen by a mandated reporter can lead to intervention that stops the abuse before it escalates,” Frasier said. “We’re very worried about children becoming more seriously injured over longer periods of time before they can get treatment.”

Long-term risks and ways to help

When abuse is caught early and intervention provided, a child has a lower risk for long-term developmental problems. Penn State Children’s Hospital has various programs for maltreated children and their families, including the TLC (Transforming the Lives of Children) Clinic that provides medical treatment for children in out-of-home placement and mental health services for children who’ve suffered the effects of trauma and abuse.

“Our treatment programs have been shown to be quite effective,” said Brian Allen, director of mental health services at the Penn State Center for the Protection of Children, based at the Children’s Hospital. But he cautions that treatment becomes more challenging even for the most resilient children when the abuse continues without any relief.

“Child abuse can have a very pervasive effect on various developmental aspects for the child,” Allen said. “If we don’t catch the abuse early, it can greatly impede a child’s ability to regulate emotions, behaviors and social skills. Post-traumatic stress can negatively affect academic potential and achievement as well.”

If you suspect that a child is in danger of or is being abused, call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313. You can reach a live representative 24 hours a day, seven days a week and you may remain anonymous if you wish.

Additionally, if you have concerns about a family that is dealing with significant stress, you can reach out to them virtually. “Call them up and ask them if they need anything,” Frasier said. “It’s hard when you’re socially isolating and you can’t offer to help by watching the kids for a while so they can take a break. But you can drop off a meal, get groceries for them, or just provide some reaffirming support.”

Related content:


The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health. Articles feature the expertise of faculty, physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

Filters close

Showing results

110 of 3409
Newswise: Last-resort life support option helped majority of critically ill COVID-19 patients survive, global study shows
24-Sep-2020 3:20 PM EDT
Last-resort life support option helped majority of critically ill COVID-19 patients survive, global study shows
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

It saved lives in past epidemics of lung-damaging viruses. Now, the life-support option known as ECMO appears to be doing the same for many of the critically ill COVID-19 patients who receive it. Patients in a new international study faced a staggeringly high risk of death, as ventilators failed to support their lungs. But after they were placed on ECMO, their actual death rate was less than 40%.

Released: 25-Sep-2020 5:05 PM EDT
Case Western Reserve University researchers to examine how COVID-19 ravaged America’s nursing homes
Case Western Reserve University

Within a few months, federal officials reported that one of every five nursing homes had experienced a death from the novel coronavirus. Not long after, several media outlets published independent analysis finding that an estimated 40% of the fatalities related to COVID-19 took place in nursing homes. Rather than surrender to the terrifying trend, Case Western Reserve researchers saw an opportunity to help.

Released: 25-Sep-2020 4:15 PM EDT
Faced with pandemic shortages, researchers combine heat and humidity to disinfect N95 masks for reuse
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

They found that gently heating N95 masks in high relative humidity could inactivate SARS-CoV-2 virus trapped within the masks, without degrading the masks’ performance.

Released: 25-Sep-2020 3:30 PM EDT
Team assessing if dual-antibody injection prevents COVID-19 illness
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

A combination antibody treatment for preventing COVID-19 illness in individuals who have had sustained exposure to someone with the virus is being studied by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The clinical trial is enrolling patients at Harris Health System’s Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital.

Released: 25-Sep-2020 2:30 PM EDT
Yes, Wisconsin Republicans have the power to overturn the extended mask mandate order by Governor Evers

Republicans have the legal power to reverse the order by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers that extends the mask mandate.

Released: 25-Sep-2020 1:55 PM EDT
How do Americans view the virus? Anthropology professor examines attitudes of COVID
Northern Arizona University

In her ongoing research about Americans' responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, Northern Arizona University anthropology professor Lisa Hardy and her collaborators have talked to dozens of people.

Released: 25-Sep-2020 12:55 PM EDT
During pandemic, racism puts additional stress on Asian Americans
Massachusetts General Hospital

Many people are feeling anxious during these uncertain times as they navigate the risks associated with COVID-19 and experience the tension from physical distancing or isolation for what can seem like an eternity.

Released: 25-Sep-2020 12:55 PM EDT
COVID-19 shapes political approval ratings
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Approval ratings of political leaders surged in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Released: 25-Sep-2020 12:40 PM EDT
ASU Researchers Receive $6m State Contract to Develop Rapid, 20-Minute Covid-19 Saliva Test
Arizona State University (ASU)

As the world manages through the coronavirus pandemic, Arizona State University continues its work to discover and develop easier and more widespread COVID-19 testing to assist in managing the virus.

Released: 25-Sep-2020 11:55 AM EDT
Scholars untangle marketing's complex role in understanding political activities
American Marketing Association (AMA)

As 2020 began, many pundits predicted a politically charged year, but few predicted that it would include a global pandemic overtaxing healthcare resources, strained U.S. race relations resulting in mass demonstrations across the globe, devastating fires consuming massive swaths of the United States, and a catastrophic global economic downturn.

Showing results

110 of 3409