Has Child Abuse Surged Under COVID-19? Despite Alarming Stories From ERs, There's No Answer

Preliminary data shows reports of child abuse around the U.S. have plunged during the pandemic. Experts fear the amount of abuse has actually risen

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Preliminary data shows that reports of child abuse around the nation have plunged during the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, according to an NBC News analysis, while experts are concerned there could be an unseen surge in abuse behind closed doors due to COVID-19 related unemployment and financial strain.

An NBC News analysis of data from 43 states and Washington, D.C., found that reports of abuse and neglect in April 2020 dropped by an average of 40.6 percent in each state from the levels reported in the same month of 2019.

Experts predicted the drop in reporting when the coronavirus pandemic was declared, noting that school closures keep children out of the view of the adults who make a fifth of all child abuse reports — teachers and school officials. At the same time, they fear the rising unemployment and other economic stresses linked to the outbreak have increased the risk of abuse and neglect. The absence of reports, however, means there’s no way to confirm a surge, despite alarming anecdotes from emergency rooms, pediatricians and hotlines.

Researchers and advocates say this lack of clarity has added urgency to a movement to put more resources into prevention, reforming a system that has long prioritized intervention and relied on mandatory reports of children who have already been hurt.

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