Watching out for child and elder maltreatment during the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic brings extra risks for households with domestic violence. A report earlier this week by Public Health—Seattle & King County reveals those patterns. In a second report looking at family violence patterns, Public Health examines available data describing child and elder maltreatment occurrence during the pandemic, compared to earlier in 2020 and 2019.

Social isolation, grief, and stress resulting from efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, combined with decreased access to services outside the home, may be increasing the risk of abuse and neglect among children and vulnerable adults, including elders.

Investigations of suspected child maltreatment in King County declined during April, May and June while investigations of elder maltreatment remained consistent

The measures reported here are limited. The data look at crisis intervention responses (and not the full picture of the immediate responses to suspected maltreatment), meaning that these only represent reported incidents of maltreatment. It is likely that these are an underestimate of the actual number of incidents.

This information shows that the number and rate of responses to child and elder maltreatment in the early months of the pandemic were similar or lower than reports received during 2019. However, these data sources may not reflect what some families are experiencing. Most reports of maltreatment originate from people external to the situation. Social distancing may affect people’s access to vulnerable children and elders, thus their likelihood to observe and report signs of abuse and neglect. Mandated reporters most likely to witness signs of abuse or neglect, such as teachers, healthcare and social service professionals, are less likely to have contact with people during the pandemic.

It is also true, however, that protective factors such as strong parenting and caregiving supports, perceived control of circumstances and strong coping mechanisms reduce the likelihood of maltreatment. Primary prevention efforts, such as increases in income and income supports to families, have been associated with reduced child maltreatment rates.

These data patterns highlight the need for comprehensive and timely information about the nature and extent of family violence in the community. A better understanding of maltreatment in communities requires better data quality and data sharing across municipalities. Systemic and timely monitoring is needed to determine how to best ensure people’s safety.

For help reporting maltreatment:  

  • To report child maltreatment: 1-800-609-8764 (King County); 1-866-636-4276 (Statewide, available 24/7)
  • To report adult maltreatment: Call 911 or 1-866-EndHarm (1-866-363-4276), or see this link.
  • Protection Orders information:  

Additional resources: 

Originally posted on October 29, 2020