April 08, 2020

When Jamye Coffman, medical director of the Texas Cook Children's Center for Prevention and Child Abuse and Neglect, found out that two children, both under the age of four, died in the hospital she worked at because of abuse-related injuries, she decided to sound the alarm.

Those two children were part of a group of seven children under age four who had all been admitted to the hospital for abuse over the course of one week. Normally, Cook Children's Medical Center sees an average of six children a year die due to abuse, but on one day that week, two pre-schoolers died.

"We know from previous research that abuse and domestic violence are often fueled by economic stress and unemployment, and with the pandemic, that is obviously at a historic high," Takisha Richardson, a lawyer who specializes in child abuse cases, told Insider.

In summer months, there tends to be a significant decrease in reported child abuse cases because kids aren't in school, according to Richardson.  That's because teachers are the biggest reporters of child abuse.

"If the child has to leave the home and be seen by teachers or peers or counselors, the abuser is less likely to inflict abuse on them that's going to leave lasting scars and things that people can see," said Richardson.

"It's probably going to be quite some time before we can actually even quantify how much abuse actually took place during this pandemic," said Richardson. That's both because states only submit Child Protective Services (CPS) data to the government twice a year, but also because the number of official child abuse reports have dipped significantly during the pandemic.

During the 2008 recession, there was a rise in infant deaths from abusive head trauma. During the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014, schools were closed for months, leading to surges in abuse, neglect, and child labor.

Richardson, who is based in Florida, knows that when there are hurricanes, incidences of abuse go up. "People are basically on lockdown in their homes with their abusers during hurricanes," said Richardson. "But hurricanes don't last as long as what we're experiencing here. I think there's going to be a much broader scale of abuse once this all subsides."

The complete article can be accessed here.