Association of routine school closures with child maltreatment reporting and substantiation in the United States; 2010-2017

Child Abuse Negl. 2021 Oct:120:105257. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2021.105257. Epub 2021 Aug 11.


Background: There exists a presumption that school closures lead to a diminished capacity to detect child maltreatment, but empiric evidence is lacking.

Objective: To determine if child maltreatment reporting and substantiation differ between periods when schools are routinely closed compared to in session.

Participants and setting: Child maltreatment reporting and substantiation among all U.S. States and the District of Columbia from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2017.

Methods: Two-week intervals during periods of routine school closure (early January, June through mid-August, late November, and late December) were compared to all other 2-week intervals. Negative binomial generalized estimating equations compared rates of reporting and substantiation, resulting in incidence rate ratios (IRR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI).

Results: Compared to when school was in session, reporting was 16.0% (IRR 0.84 [95% CI: 0.83, 0.85]) lower during school closures and substantiations were 12.3% (IRR 0.88 [95% CI: 0.86, 0.89]) lower. The largest reductions in reporting were observed among education personnel (-42.1%; IRR 0.58 [95% CI: 0.54, 0.62]), children aged 5-17 years (-18.6%; IRR 0.81 [95% CI: 0.80, 0.83), and for physical abuse (-19.6%; IRR 0.80 [95% CI: 0.79, 0.82]). Reductions during closure periods were not matched by increases during two-week intervals immediately following closure periods.

Conclusions: Results suggest that the detection of child maltreatment may be diminished during periods of routine school closure. Findings may inform prevention planning and risk-benefit analyses for future school closures. Further study should disentangle the issue of decreased detection versus decreased prevalence of maltreatment during school closures.

Keywords: Reporting; School; Substantiation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Mandatory Reporting*
  • Physical Abuse
  • Schools
  • United States / epidemiology