After pandemic drop, advocates fear spike in child abuse reports this fall | Tuesday Morning Coffee

The number of child abuse reports received dropped about 22 percent between 2019 and 2020, state data show

October 12, 2021 7:05 am

(Image via Pa. Partnerships for Children)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

After a pandemic-prompted drop-off, a child advocacy says it’s likely Pennsylvania will see a spike in child abuse reports this fall.

That’s because children were isolated during lockdown in 2020, which meant such mandatory reporters as teachers and physicians weren’t able to spot abuse and report it to authorities.

But, as has been well-established, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. Recent state data released by the Department of Human Services paints an alarming picture:

  • “The number of reports received dropped about 22 percent between 2019 and 2020,” according to an analysis provided to the Capital-Star
  • “The number of substantiated cases fell slightly, but there were 4,593 substantiated cases in 2020
  • “There were 93 near fatalities in 2019, and in 2020, 115 children nearly died from child abuse
  • “The state lost 73 children to child abuse in 2020, which is up from 51 in 2019,” the analysis showed.
(Source: Pa. Dept. of Human Services)

Now, with kids back in class, and pandemic restrictions lifted, those legally required to report abuse will be able to do so again. And one advocacy group is urging them to step forward.

“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a situation where children were confined to their homes, and for some, that meant they were continually subjected to abuse and neglect,” Angela Liddle, the president and CEO of the Pa. Family Support Alliance, said in a statement.

“When schools closed to protect children and their families from the coronavirus, we saw reports to ChildLine [the state’s abuse hotline] diminish,” she continued. “As we look toward the fall, child welfare professionals are preparing themselves for a dramatic increase in reports since children will once again be back in the presence of mandated reporters.”

Sadly, Pennsylvania’s experience during lockdown last year was no different from that of other states, the advocacy group noted. While reported cases went down, some hospitals said the cases of abuse they saw were more severe, the Washington Post reported in April 2020.

In July, CNN reported that it was still too soon to know the full impact of the pandemic on child welfare. But as classes resume in full, the picture should become clearer.

“As things open up, everybody’s kind of watching at the same time,” Melissa Jonson-Reid, a social work research professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told the cable news network.

As that happens, Liddle’s organization is urging mandated reporters and members of the public to “pay close attention to the children in their lives and keep a watchful eye on them as they transition back into school.”

“As the adage says, if you see something, say something,” Liddle said. “Children depend on adults for their safety and survival, and we are imploring everyone to take action if you suspect that abuse or neglect is happening.”

If you have witnessed child abuse, or believe it is happening, you can make an anonymous report to ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.

While mandatory reporters receive training in spotting suspected abuse, the same is not true of the general public. But this online guide, put together by Liddle’s group, explains the warning sings of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.