Suspected and Actual Infant Child Abuse Cases Increase During the Pandemic, According to Medical Encounter Data

BHIBlog

Child abuse during pandemic

New findings by BHI add to the increasing evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to contain it have taken a terrible toll on children. 

In the interest of understanding the pandemic’s impact on children, BHI examined pediatric trends for 2020. We found that in the previous year, the trend in the cost of an ED visit for children under age 18 was double what it was for 2019. (In comparison, ED cost trends for adults remained the same in 2020 as in 2019.)

In digging deeper, we learned that, tragically, medical claims documenting both suspected and confirmed physical abuse in children less than one year old increased dramatically from 2019. Regardless of the care setting, claims for suspected physical abuse increased 25% from 2019. Claims related to actual physical abuse of children under the age of one grew by 14%.

Teens and Tweens Also Hurting
Our data analysis also found that during the worst days of the pandemic, teens and tweens more often came to the hospital because they were contemplating suicide.  From 2019 to 2020, the percentage of total pediatric ED visits for suicidal thoughts increased 46% in children ages 10 to 18. While the numbers remain small (an increase to 1.9% from 1.3% of total pediatric ED visits), it is a troubling trend.

In addition, there was a sharp rise in these populations in intentional self-harm poisonings from anti-depressants, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen.  This population also had increased ED visits for eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. These findings align with what mental health experts around the country have been voicing – a need to acknowledge, document, and address the particular mental health impacts of the pandemic on families, teens, and children.