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Pandemic child abuse reports down, but Utah cases did not go away

There are 1,800 pinwheels fluttering in the breeze in front of Primary Children’s Hospital to symbolize the children who died from abuse in 2019 across the nation. (Primary Children’s Hospital)

SALT LAKE CITY — April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Utah advocates say the pandemic might have changed the numbers.

Child abuse deaths increased in 2019

1,800 pinwheels flutter in the breeze in front of Primary Children’s Hospital. Each symbolizes a child who died from abuse in 2019 across the nation, the last year for which they have data. The number of deaths rose 3% higher than in 2018.

In Utah alone, more than 10,500 children were victims of child abuse in 2019. 

Dr. Antoinette Laskey with University of Utah Health and Primary Children’s Hospital says they are anxious to see what happened with case numbers during the pandemic.

“Across the country and here in Utah, our clinics got really quiet, which was frightening to us,” said Laskey. “Because we know that child abuse doesn’t simply go away, or we would have solved this problem decades ago.”

“For some reason, when the country shut down, we stopped seeing cases. And that really concerned us.”

Professionals file the majority of child abuse reports

Laskey said in lockdown, children lost the chance for others to notice signs of possible abuse. Since schools can provide a safety net for kids in abusive situations, Laskey said their reopening helps. 

“We know that teachers and counselors and other children at school provide an outlet for children to talk about things that have happened to them. The vast majority of reports that come in to the Department of Child and Family Services actually come from educational settings.”

Even beyond Utah, federal data shows professionals who work with children file 69% of all child abuse reports. 

Despite the lack of reported abuse, Laskey noted the amount of child abuse-related trips to the Primary Children’s emergency department remained similar to the prior year. 

Additionally, reports of domestic violence in Utah rose throughout the pandemic; Laskey believes that shows many children may witness and experience abuse at home, which could indicate a corresponding increase in child abuse. 

Utah child abuse data from 2020: challenging

It’ll be challenging to recover the child abuse data from 2020, Laskey acknowledged. But Laskey pointed out child abuse reports started increasing again once Utah schools returned to in-person learning. 

She said the best thing a person can do if they suspect a child is being abused is to report it. 

“If a child tells you they’re being abused, listen to them, believe them. Know that they’re telling you because you’re their hope,” said Laskey.

“Let the child know that the abuse is not their fault, and that they are smart and brave for disclosing the abuse. Then, report it. There is no need to confront someone you suspect is harming a child. Report your suspicions to the authorities.”

Anyone who suspects child abuse should call the National Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline at 1-855-323-3237 or local law enforcement.

Learn more about preventing child abuse at howtopreventabuse.orgPCAUtah.org, and primarychildrens.org/safeandhealthyfamilies.

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