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Child abuse reports down, hospitalizations up in Delaware amid pandemic


Experts across the country have worried more cases of child abuse are going unreported during the pandemic, as stresses on families increase but reports of child abuse drop


State officials in Delaware have seen a similar reduction in reports.


Trenee Parker, director of Delaware’s Division of Family Services, says the Division saw a “dropoff” in the number of calls coming to its child abuse hotline starting in March, when schools went online. By the end of the school year, the hotline had received 35 to 40 percent fewer calls compared to the previous year.


“Part of that is really attributed to the fact that children were not being seen face to face daily by educators,” said Parker. 


Teachers and educators are often the ones that report signs of child abuse when they notice them in the classroom. Parker says the Div. of Family Services’ top three referral sources for child abuse cases are school employees, healthcare professionals and law enforcement— all of which are mandated reporters under state law. 


Referrals from law enforcement have remained steady, Parker says. Reports from healthcare professionals dipped early in the pandemic when many routine medical visits were being delayed, but have now levelled off. 


Meanwhile, officials with Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children (Nemours) report an increase in the number of children hospitalized for suspected abuse this spring over last spring. 


Child abuse pediatrician Dr. Stephanie Deutsch says from January to June, suspected abuse-related admissions at Nemours were nearly 90 percent higher than during that time last year. 


“I don’t think we have the data to support that the kids that are getting admitted right now are more severely injured than previously,” she said. “I think what the data does show is that we’re admitting many more kids now currently than we were in the comparison year prior.” 


Deutsch notes the cases that are admitted to the hospital do not show the full picture. 


“We are all concerned that there’s more physical and sexual abuse out there, that there are more cases out there that we’re not hearing about,” she said.


If online learning is part of school reopening this fall, Parker says teachers knowing how to spot the signs of child abuse remotely will be important for keeping kids safe. 


“It’s really a large responsibility of everyone in our state to make sure that children are safe,” said Parker. “We just want to make sure that anyone who has the opportunity to have a touch with a child makes sure they’re looking for the signs.”


Report suspected child abuse to the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-292-9582 or Calls can be made anonymously.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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