Texas Hospital Sees Spike In Child Abuse Cases, Doctors Speculate Coronavirus Stress & Isolation To Blame

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A Texas hospital has seen a spike in severe child abuse cases — including at least one fatal one — in the past week, and doctors speculate that the stress and isolation due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic may be a contributing factor.

As Fort Worth’s KXAS-TV reports, Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth normally sees about eight cases of severe child abuse in a month. In the last week, they had six. One of those cases was fatal.

“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,” said Dr. Jayme Coffman.

And while it’s impossible to say with any certainty that this spike in child abuse cases is due to any one thing, Coffman isn’t afraid to point to the stress and isolation from being locked down during the coronavirus pandemic.

EAST MEADOW, NEW YORK, - MARCH 21: A couple sit on a park bench wearing masks at Eisenhower Park on March 21, 2020 in East Meadow, New York. Yesterday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he was putting the state on "pause" meaning non essential workers should stay home at all times except for critical travel due to the coronavirus pandemic. The World Health Organization declared coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic on March 11th. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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“There’s no way for us to directly link that, but that’s the concern,” Dr. Coffman noted.

She also noted that the stressors from being locked down during the coronavirus pandemic extend just beyond boredom and isolation. There are financial concerns, too. Many of her patients likely have parents whose jobs are currently limited or even non-existent, and who are experiencing financial hardship.

Further, Coffman noted that she witnessed a spike in child abuse cases during a previous time of uncertainty. Back during “the recession,” she says — though she didn’t specify which one — she saw an increase in abusive head trauma in children.

“I don’t want to see that again,” she says.

Similarly, Christi Thornhill, director of the hospital’s trauma program, says via Fort Worth’s CBS affiliate that a spike in child abuse cases was all but expected.

“We knew an increase in abuse was going to occur, but this happened faster than we ever imagined,” she notes, adding that these are “really bad” abuse cases.

Meanwhile, Shellie McMillon, chief program officer at Ft. Worth adoption agency Alliance For Children, notes that the systems normally in place to monitor children for abuse, and to give them an outlet to advocate for themselves if they are being abused, are now gone.

Schools are closed, so a large group of mandated reporters of child abuse — that is, teachers and school officials — aren’t having daily contact with kids, and thus, can’t report suspected cases of abuse. Similarly, children don’t have trusted adults they can talk to if they’re being abused.

McMillon also said that adults shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

As for Dr. Coffman, she notes that now is the time for neighbors to step up and help each other out.

“We can still reach out as friends and family to give them a shoulder to virtually lean on,” she says.