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Hidden Danger: Child Abuse and the Pandemic

Child abuse exists all around us and knows no social, cultural, or economic

boundaries. Children experience neglect, molest, and emotional,

psychological, and physical abuse every day in every neighborhood. It is

the sad reality. But what happens to children during a global crisis like the

pandemic?


Increased stress on families due to job loss, economic hardships, and

overall disruption of lifestyle all contribute to parents and caregivers finding

it difficult to cope. Add to that children being restricted to distance learning

and parents and caregivers suddenly forced to become teachers. Many

parents are buckling under the stress of having to act as teachers to their

children, who themselves are struggling with distance learning. It is a

difficult time for parents and caregivers and their children. Increased stress

on a family can lead to increased likelihood of child abuse.


Some with pre-existing mental health issues will experience exacerbated

symptoms. Parents who are consumed by their own mental health issues

may find it difficult to care for and protect the children in their care. Neglect

and other forms of child abuse increase in these situations.


Parents and caregivers with substance abuse histories may experience

relapse. Any parent dealing with the stress of the pandemic may resort to

self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. A number of studies point to

increased substance abuse and overdose since the onset of the pandemic.

When a parent or caregiver abuses substances, children may be neglected

or abused.


Child abuse will increase during the pandemic. That is a given. But sadly

for children the safeguards that protected them under pre-pandemic times

have disappeared due to their not being seen by two major groups of

mandated reporters (professionals who are required to report child abuse).


These two groups of mandated reporters are responsible for reporting the

vast majority of cases of suspected child abuse. Once child abuse is

reported, the case is investigated and help and assistance can be given to

the family to help them to function better and reduce or eliminate instances of child abuse in their family. When child abuse is unreported, families will not receive assistance and the abuse will most likely continue. These families need help, and they are not likely to receive the help they so desperately need.


Who are these two groups of mandated reporters?


The first is doctors, nurses, and physicians assistants. During the pandemic

doctor visits are being cancelled or postponed. Not only does this pose a

risk for the children’s health, but it also means that doctors are treating

them—even for routine checkups. If doctors are not seeing their young

patients, evidence of child abuse cannot be seen and reported.


The second group is teachers. Teachers know their students. They can

recognize behavioral changes, changes in grooming standards, changes in

ability to concentrate and function in the classroom, or physical changes

like bruises or other injuries. Children often confide in their teachers or

other school personnel. If teachers are not seeing their students in person,

their students’ evidence of child abuse will go unreported and children will

continue to be abused.


Children need to be back in school full time, and parents need to be

encouraged to resume normal medical and preventative care for their

children. Only then can we begin to start the process of healing from the

effects the pandemic has had on vulnerable families and children.

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