KENTUCKY — Kentucky has the highest rate of child abuse in the country but currently, the state is seeing a drop in reporting as schools and daycare centers remain closed as a result of the coronavirus.
"Our biggest source of reporting to DCBS (Department for Community Based Services) is our schools and daycares, family and friends are up there on the list as well, and all of those groups have been removed from the kids,” said Dr. Melissa Currie, Medical Director and Chief at Norton Children’s Pediatric Protection Team Affiliated with the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “So there just aren't as many eyes on the kids to see signs of abuse or neglect to report it.”
Statewide reports of child abuse of dropped significantly according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services there were 8,815 reports of child abuse in March of this year compared to 5,868 reported cases in April, the first full month Kentucky had the Healthy at Home order in place.
Doctors and advocates caring for abused children are seeing double-digit drops in cases, the specialists at Norton Children’s Pediatric Protection Team have seen a 30 percent decrease in the number of cases referred to the unit since the pandemic began.
Experts believe the numbers could be deceiving as many children are still being subjected to abuse.
“Our consult numbers are down, which makes us very worried about those kids because we know that abuse hasn't just gone away,” said Dr. Currie. "It's just that there aren't people around the kids to recognize the signs “
Child welfare advocates are growing increasingly concerned with the severity of the abuse that is being caught during the pandemic.
“The consults we've had they're more severe,” Dr. Currie said. "So the ones that are bad enough that the child has to come to the hospital, we're still seeing those. In fact, we're maybe seeing more of those.”
The vast majority of child abuse is reported through schools and daycare centers with those facilities remaining closed its likely reports could remain low until school is back in session and daycares are allowed to reopen but there are still ways to spot child abuse in the new virtual world.
To begin with, when video chatting with family or friends Currie says to ask to see the child on camera.
“You'll at least see part of their skin, to see if there are any bruises or if the child doesn't seem quite right,” she explained.
Another way to help spot child abuse or prevent it from happening in the first place is to remain supportive of friends with families especially if there has been contact throughout the pandemic.
"Check on them, offer to be respite. I know that without daycares and babysitters parents are really stretched and add the financial issues on top of that with potential job losses that we know a lot of people are experiencing,” Currie said. "This is a really stressful time for families so anything that we can do to support a family with young children is going to be potentially helpful”
Bruises are the number one overlooked early signs of child abuse but can be one of the most important indicators. Experts suggest using the “Ten-4 Rule” when looking for signs of abuse, which stands for torso, ears, and neck.
“Any bruising to the torso, ears or neck of a child, four years of age or younger, or any bruising anywhere on a baby that's not yet pulling up and taking steps is high risk and needs to be evaluated,” Currie explains.
Cuts and scratches on children usually tend to be accidental injuries but other signs of abuse could be burns seen on children or injuries to limbs that go untreated even if the injury was accidental.
“A child who falls off a trampoline and hurts their leg and the family doesn’t seek care for a week,” Dr. Currie says. “If you find out a child is not using a limb, that can be a sign of medical neglect that is something we look for as well."
Every resident in Kentucky is mandated to report child abuse to authorities if they believe they see signs of it.
If you believe a child is being abused call 1-877-KYSAFE1 or click here.