The research in the peer-reviewed journal was authored by University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Robin Ortiz and a research team that includes Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline Program Director, Michelle Fingerman. Looking at restricted-access data from Childhelp, the team found “a 13.75% increase in the total number of inquiries in 2020 compared with 2019,” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We hypothesize that there was an increase in calls and texts to the hotline overall due to an increase in child and caregiver distress and potential child maltreatment amid the stressors of the pandemic,” Ortiz recently told CNN.
The research reflects concern over a lack of interaction between children and mandated reporters — professionals required by law to report suspicions of abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 20% of screened-in referrals to CPS were made by education professionals in 2019. However, at the height of the pandemic, face-to-face instruction was interrupted for virtually all American students, and teachers reported much fewer concerns.
An Associated Press report earlier in the spring found a nationwide “decrease of 18% in both total reports and investigations” by child protective services during the pandemic. The research published by Ortiz et. al points to a similar decline in contacts from teachers and school-related reporters to the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline even as total inquiries increased overall, especially from those under 18.
“Decreased exposure to school-based mandated reporters may have contributed to the initial call decrease,” the researchers wrote. “Text messaging, a child- and teenager-friendly modality, expanded during the post-closure period, pointing to potential self-advocacy.”
The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD; childhelphotline.org) offers 24-hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week counseling and crisis support around the issue of child abuse and began offering its services over internet chat and text message in 2019.