ORLANDO, Fla. — Reports of child abuse have dropped in Central Florida since the pandemic began, but child advocates say that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Doctors at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children first reported a rise in child abuse cases at the beginning of the pandemic and say it’s only gotten worse since then as the children they’re treating have gotten younger, and their injuries, more severe.
“Almost all infants and toddlers,” says Dr. Donald Plumley, Director of Pediatric Trauma at Arnold Palmer Hospital. “The ones we’re seeing are young and severely abused, which is the sad part.”
Dr. Plumley says he first noticed more children being admitted to APH with severe injuries in March, and the trend has only continued, as their typical number of severe abuse cases has doubled.
“And what has us really concerned is there’s probably the silent amount of other children that are being abused, not to the point that they require critical care, whether being verbally or physically,” Dr. Plumley says. “A bruise, a black eye, would be noticed by a teacher and we’re really missing out on those.”
According to data from the Florida Department of Children and Families, compared to 2019, reports of child abuse were slightly down in January and February, but took a major dive in Mach, April and May.
Child advocates say that drop coincides with school closures due to the pandemic.
“We always see this,” says Marie Martinez, Director of the Howard Phillips Center for Children and Families. “The abuse reports correspond with the school schedule, so in the summertime, it’s always the case that they drop off, because there are fewer eyes on those kids.”
Martinez’ staff helps interview children who are possibly being abused. She says while those report numbers are down, hospitalizations for abuse are up 19 percent, and they’ve gotten busier now that some kids are back to face-to-face learning.
“The reports went up when more kids went back to school...we really appreciate the teachers being those eyes and ears, because even if they’re doing virtually, they have to be on camera and sometimes they have been picking up on things,” Martinez says.
With no real end to the pandemic in sight, Dr. Plumley and Martinez both say they hope everyone will fill the gap and be extra vigilant.