The perfect storm: Hidden risk of child maltreatment during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Author(s): 
Rodriguez, C.M., Lee, S.J., Ward, K.P., & Pu, D.F. (2020)
Source: 
Child Maltreatment, I1 -13.
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Summary: 

This paper describes two studies conducted early in the pandemic to evaluate its impact on the risk of child maltreatment. In one study, parents reported increased physical assault, verbal conflict, and neglect associated with their perceived stress and loneliness. In the second study, parents reported increased parent-child conflict, which was associated with child abuse risk.

Expanded Abstract: 

Research now estimates that one of eight U.S. children will be confirmed a victim of maltreatment before their 18th birthday—a cumulative estimate far exceeding what is implied by national annual number of cases reported to child protective services (Wildeman et al., 2014). Notably, it appears that actual rates of child abuse are multiple times officially reported rates (Meinck et al., 2016; Sedlak et al., 2010).

After natural disasters, hospital admission records reveal an increase in inflicted traumatic brain injury in children (Keenan et al., 2004), underscoring the reality that the incidence of child abuse may rise following natural disasters (Seddighi et al., 2019). News reports of increased rates of hospital visits and hospitalizations for abuse attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic have already surfaced (e.g., Da Silva, 2020; Woodall, 2020).

The Covid-19 pandemic upended the country, with enormous economic and social shifts. Given the increased contact from families living in virtual confinement coupled with massive economic disarray, the Covid-19 pandemic may have created the ideal conditions to witness a rise in children’s experience of abuse and neglect. The current investigation utilized two studies conducted early in the pandemic to evaluate maltreatment risk. In the first cross-sectional study, parents reported increased physical and verbal conflict and neglect against children which were associated with the parent’s stress and loneliness. In the second study, parents reported increased parent-child conflict, which was associated with concurrent child abuse risk. There were also links to employment loss, food insecurity, and loneliness.

Findings from this study are discussed in the context of a reactive welfare system rather than a proactive public-health oriented approach to child maltreatment, connecting with families through multiple avenues. Innovative approaches will be needed to reach children faced with maltreatment to gauge its scope and impact in the pandemic’s aftermath.

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