In the four months since the coronavirus pandemic gripped the nation in mid-March, schools have closed, sending students home, and jobs were lost, sending millions of parents home, too. Many child-welfare experts warned that the stressful combination was likely to lead to a surge of child abuse.
However, the Associated Press reports that some of the front-line experts and pediatricians who issued those warnings say that they have not seen evidence of a wave of abuse.
Dr. Lori Frasier leads both the Penn State’s Children’s Hospital Division of Child Abuse Pediatrics and a national society of pediatricians specializing in child abuse prevention and treatment. She told AP that no one has experienced the surge of abuse they were expecting.”
Jerry Milner, head of the Children’s Bureau at the federal Department of Health and Human Services, agreed. “I’m not aware of any data that would substantiate that children are being abused at a higher rate during the pandemic,” he said.
Marci Hamilton, the head of CHILD USA, an organization dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect, said it is far too early to conclude that worries were unfounded. “There’s no question children are more at risk,” she said. “And we won’t be able to see those children until school reopens.”
Frasier recalls that during the 2008 recession, some of her pediatrician colleagues saw a sharp rise in children’s head injuries and shaken baby syndrome that they attributed, in part, to the added economic stress of the time.
Another child-abuse specialist, Dr. Heather Williams, said that based on her experiences in 2008, she expected a surge in abuse. She said she wonders if the federal stimulus and increased unemployment benefits helped stave off the surge she and many other experts had anticipated.
“We’d be really excited if we’re wrong,” Williams said.