At the peak of the pandemic last year, child abuse reports plummeted, with some agencies reporting a 60% decrease in calls to hotlines and child protective services. In an analysis by the Associated Press, 400,000 fewer child welfare concerns were reported, and 200,000 fewer child abuse and neglect investigations and assessments occurred in 2020 compared to 2019.
While there was a decrease in reports, those called in were much more severe than usual, with the majority called in because the child required medical attention. What many feared were the cases of child abuse and neglect that went unreported. In addition to spending more time together, the pandemic's effect on the economy and increased unemployment created additional stress within families. For some children, this placed them in an unsafe environment with a lack of trusted and protective adults.
In 2019, an estimated five children died every day due to child abuse and neglect for an estimated total of 1,840 deaths, increasing compared to the national estimate for 2018. Children under the age of 3 are the most vulnerable to child abuse or neglect and account for 70% of fatalities, with those younger than one year making up more nearly 50% of victims. In most cases, a parent acting alone or with another parent was responsible for the fatality. Sadly, few within the family structure report child abuse because they are the perpetrator or are experiencing abuse themselves.
Most child abuse reports come from adults outside of the family structure who contact the child frequently enough to notice the abuse and are required to report it as part of their job. Over the last year, there were fewer of these interactions. This year, while some schools resumed in-person classes and mandated reporters could keep an eye out for child abuse, these interactions will once again stop once school is out for summer. While reports may decrease during the summertime, it doesn't mean that child abuse does. Sadly, the summertime creates some of the most extreme cases of chronic abuse and neglect as children are isolated and entirely dependent on the adults in their household.
This summer, pay attention to the children in your life and check in with families in your community. If you are a trusted adult for a child, practice active listening and take action if a child shares that they've had an uncomfortable or unsafe experience at home. When checking in, consider asking open-ended questions to encourage conversation, for example:
- What do you like the most about being at home?
- What was the best part of your day?
- How is everyone getting along in your house?
Child abuse is preventable, and there are many ways you can help support and strengthen families to prevent it. Visit Arizona’s Prevention Child Abuse site to learn about what you can do to help children thrive within your household.
If you are concerned that a child is not safe at home please call the Arizona Child Abuse Hotline at 1-888-767-2445 or visit Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline for local resources and referrals.