Reporting of child maltreatment during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in New York City from March to May 2020

Child Abuse Negl. 2021 Jun;116(Pt 2):104719. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2020.104719. Epub 2020 Sep 9.


Background: School closures and other public health responses have decreased the extent that children interact with mandated reporters and other professionals trained to detect child maltreatment.

Objective: To assess associations between the pandemic public health response and the number of allegations of child abuse or neglect.

Methods: This study analyzed monthly data from New York City of the number of child maltreatment allegations, stratified by reporter type (e.g., mandated reporter, education personnel, healthcare personnel), as well as the number of Child Protective Services (CPS) investigations warranting child welfare preventative services. SARIMA models were trained using data from January 2015 to February 2020 to predict expected values for March, April, and May 2020. Observed values were compared against predicted values at an alpha of .05.

Results: Substantially fewer allegations of child maltreatment were reported than expected in March (-28.8 %, deviation: 1848, 95 % CI: [1272, 2423]), April (-51.5 %, deviation: 2976, 95 % CI: [2382, 3570]), and May 2020 (-46.0 %, deviation: 2959, 95 % CI: [2347, 3571]). Significant decreases in child maltreatment reporting were also noted for all reporter subtypes examined for March, April, and May 2020. Fewer CPS investigations warranted preventative services than expected in March 2020 (-43.5 %, deviation: 303, 95 % CI: [132, 475]).

Conclusions: Precipitous drops in child maltreatment reporting and child welfare interventions coincided with social distancing policies designed to mitigate COVID-19 transmission. In light of these findings, educators and healthcare providers must be especially vigilant when engaging online with children and their families for signs of child abuse and/or neglect.

Keywords: COVID-19; Child abuse; Child neglect; Coronavirus; Mandated reporter.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / complications
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / diagnosis
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Protective Services
  • Child Welfare
  • Humans
  • Mandatory Reporting
  • New York City / epidemiology
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2*