How can trends in child maltreatment during COVID-19 inform new ways of supporting families?



How can trends in child maltreatment during COVID-19 inform new ways of supporting families?

Weiner, D., Heaton, L., Stiehl, M., Chor, B., Kim, K., Heisler, K., Foltz, R., & Farrell, A. (2020). Chapin Hall issue brief: COVID-19 and child welfare: Using data to understand trends in maltreatment and response. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

What can we learn from this study?

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, children have less in-person contact with educators and other mandated reporters, which has led to a decline in the number of hotline reports for maltreatment. At the same time, economic stressors for families have increased. Some express concern that these circumstances are contributing to an increase in undetected maltreatment.

Study details:

  • Population: Children involved in a screened-in report of maltreatment
  • Data sources: Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System from one county; Bureau of Labor Statistics ; American Community Survey; National Center of Health Statistics; National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System
  • Methodology: Descriptive and multilevel time-series analyses
  • Dates: 2012 to 2020

What are the critical findings?

This brief analyzes the historical patterns of child maltreatment reports and the impact of economic trends on families to provide information about the child welfare system’s ability to effectively detect and respond to child maltreatment:

Why is this important for our work?

This analysis offers critical insight into how the child welfare system can be reimagined to promote child and family well-being, noting that most families could benefit more from upstream supports rather than child welfare intervention. The researchers recommend: 1) refining the maltreatment category of neglect to distinguish it from poverty; 2) investing in community-based supports; 3) using technology to improve access to services; 4) creating better pathways for families to access support; and 5) recognizing that child and family well-being requires investment from a broad array of partners. 

This summary synthesizes the findings from a single research brief. To learn more, review resources at Pathways for Support. 

For additional information, access the article directly or email