Why child welfare experts fear a spike of abuse during COVID-19


Child welfare experts are most concerned about three conditions happening right now.

Routines are being disrupted. With businesses, schools and daycares shuttered, parents and children are in each other’s constant company, sometimes in close quarters. That may be welcome time spent together, but it can also be incredibly stressful when coupled with the demands of work, bills and other anxieties. Children, too, may act out when they are under stress.

Jobs have evaporated. By March 28, 6.6 million Americans had filed first-time jobless claims in a single week. Before that, nearly a fifth of Americans said they’d lost wages or jobs due to COVID-19, in a PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll conducted March 13-14. That means more households are straining under the weight of debt and economic insecurity.

Children are isolated from others who care. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the act of going to school and being seen by teachers, staff and fellow students stretched a modest net to help catch children who might be mistreated. Before, someone outside the home might spot a bruise and ask how things were going. Amid social distancing, that oversight is gone.

“These are all conditions that set up what might lead to child abuse and neglect,” said Sege, who served on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect.

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