National Child Abuse Prevention Month was officially created in 1983. Every year since, the nation comes together to recognize and bring awareness to the child abuse and neglect epidemic in the United States. This month is a reminder of the importance of communities working together to strengthen and support families so that all children can thrive.
Child abuse and child neglect have a long-term, lasting impact on health, opportunity, and well-being (CDC, 2008). Children who are abused or neglected are more likely to have mental and physical health challenges as adults. According to the Children’s Bureau, of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 3.9 million referrals alleging maltreatment were made in 2020. The number is significantly less than the over 7.9 million reports of child maltreatment that were made in 2019. Unfortunately, this decrease is NOT likely a result of fewer occurrences of abuse, but instead a result of children being kept at home from the COVID-19 pandemic. Even more alarming is the number of confirmed victims of abuse and neglect in 2020: about 618,000 compared to 656,000 children in 2019. About 1,750 children died from abuse and neglect as compared to about 1,840 children dying from abuse and neglect in 2019. (Children’s Bureau, 2020). With reporting down significantly, the proportion of confirmed abuse cases versus reported in 2020 is significantly more. With so many children not attending school and with limited in-person access to the professionals that typically report abuse (teachers, social workers, doctors, police) there is great concern for the abuse that has remained unreported.
In times of crisis and economic insecurity, rates of child abuse and neglect increase. COVID-19 has added stressors to the lives of many parents, caregivers, and children. In fact, social distancing, mask wearing, and school closures have disrupted the lives of children at a critical time in their development. It’s important that we acknowledge that children and families need additional or different kinds of supports during this time.
There is a lot we can do to support families. We can help create positive experiences and supportive environments for caregivers and children, foster nurturing relationships, promote social and emotional learning in schools. We can look out for our neighbors and lend a hand when they need it. Working together, we can build healthier, safer, communities that thrive.
Please join us this April to honor the many professionals, community members and families in your community. All working together to ensure children grow up to be happy and healthy adults.