Child physical abuse and COVID-19: Trends from nine pediatric trauma centers

Katie W. Russell, Shannon N. Acker, Romeo C. Ignacio, Katrine M. Lofberg, Erin M. Garvey, Stephanie D. Chao, David W. Bliss, Caitlin A. Smith, Deepika Nehra, Melissa L. Anderson, Brittney L. Bunnell, Niti Shahi, John M. Perry, Lauren L. Evans, Jacky Z. Kwong, Joseph Tobias, Autumn Rohan, Kaci L. Pickett, Jill L. Kaar, Zachary J. KastenbergAntoinette L. Laskey, Eric R. Scaife, Aaron R. Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: Economic, social, and psychologic stressors are associated with an increased risk for abusive injuries in children. Prolonged physical proximity between adults and children under conditions of severe external stress, such as witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic with “shelter-in-place orders”, may be associated with additional increased risk for child physical abuse. We hypothesized that child physical abuse rates and associated severity of injury would increase during the early months of the pandemic as compared to the prior benchmark period. Methods: We conducted a nine-center retrospective review of suspected child physical abuse admissions across the Western Pediatric Surgery Research Consortium. Cases were identified for the period of April 1-June 30, 2020 (COVID-19) and compared to the identical period in 2019. We collected patient demographics, injury characteristics, and outcome data. Results: There were no significant differences in child physical abuse cases between the time periods in the consortium as a whole or at individual hospitals. There were no differences between the study periods with regard to patient characteristics, injury types or severity, resource utilization, disposition, or mortality. Conclusions: Apparent rates of new injuries related to child physical abuse did not increase early in the COVID-19 pandemic. While this may suggest that pediatric physical abuse was not impacted by pandemic restrictions and stresses, it is possible that under-reporting, under-detection, or delays in presentation of abusive injuries increased during the pandemic. Long-term follow-up of subsequent rates and severity of child abuse is needed to assess for unrecognized injuries that may have occurred.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-301
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of pediatric surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • COVID-19
  • Child abuse
  • Nonaccidental trauma
  • SARS-CoV-2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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