Doctors at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth say stress from the coronavirus pandemic may be linked to the six cases of child abuse they saw this week, one resulting in death.
Dr. Jayme Coffman, medical director of the CARE team at Cook Children’s, said all six cases were related to physical abuse.
They typically consult about eight a month.
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“Thursday night, we had one child admitted with unfortunately, life-threatening injuries, which they succumbed to, as well as four other children in the emergency department at the same time who were treated and released,” Coffman said. “It was like, we have to reach out to the community.”
Coffman said all of the children were 6 years old or younger. Though she said they could not say with full certainty the impacts of COVID-19 motivated the abuse, “it’s hard to think that it’s just coincidental”.
“There’s no way for us to directly link that, but that’s the concern – are these families under more stress related to financial issues, whether it’s lost jobs or concerns for their jobs?” she said. “We also saw similar types of things happen during the recession where, in our trauma department, the most common cause of trauma death in children was motor vehicle collisions. During the recession, that changed to abusive head trauma, and I don’t want to see that again.”
Shellie McMillon, chief program officer at the Alliance For Children, described the spike in cases at Cook Children’s as heartbreaking.
“One thing we know is that educators, our school professionals are the largest group of people who report suspected child abuse and that makes sense. They’re usually with kids a good portion of the day,” McMillon said. “Now that kids are not in school, they’re at home – a lot of times, they don’t have that, what we call a trusted adult, to maybe tell about what’s going on.”
McMillon said one of the crucial things parents or caretakers should keep in mind if they are stressed is to not hesitate to ask for help.
“I think, too, if you’re feeling really stressed and really feeling anger towards your kids – it’s OK, as long as they’re in a safe place, right? Kind of a safe spot in the house walk away and calm down,” she said. “It’s OK to leave your child if they’re crying or something, if you feel like you’re at wit’s end.”
As for the community, Coffman urged people to reach out to families and check in the best way they can, especially now – during times of social distancing.
“If you see a family under stress, reach out to them. Let them know that you’re there. We can’t gather in big groups, we may not be able to attend our normal church gatherings, but we can still reach out as friends and family to give them a shoulder to virtually lean on,” Coffman said.
Childhelp.org offers a resource for both parents and children alike. The National Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you are urged to contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (TDFPS) toll free at 1-800-252-5400. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Reports can also be filed using the secure TDFPS website.
The Texas Abuse Hotline is 1-800-252-5400.