Child Abuse During School Closures May Cause 5 Times as Many Children’s Deaths as the Pandemic Itself

Published: October 25, 2021

School Lockdown

In the interest of openness, my politics are that the right-wing and left-wing are part of the same bird. So I don't hold with the partisanship of the current political debate. And I of course believe that looking at the science objectively is critical in making public policy decisions. With that in mind, I think that the initial lockdowns were reasonable.

When setting social policy on school closures, it's important to anticipate any unexpected effects these decisions may cause, or may have already caused. In this case, new research is showing that although child abuse (called "non-accidental trauma") for children over five years of age decreased during the first two months of lockdown, they subsequently shot up dramatically. Looking at nine pediatric trauma centers, the number of child abuse victims tripled during the study period to 103, up from an average of 36 children during a similar period before the pandemic.

The study authors suspect that this may have occurred for several reasons. When children are in school, teachers and social workers watch over them and can pick up on signs of abuse. That safety net disappeared during lockdown. Although it's theoretically possible that increased economic and other stresses of COVID-19 could have led to abuse even if the kids were attending school, the lack of increased abuse in children under five who continued going to child care argues against it.

So What Are the Implications?

Data suggests that 1,809 child fatalities due to abuse or maltreatment occurred in the United States in 2019. Even if we assume that as many as 30% of these deaths were in children under age five, that would mean 1,266 children ages five through 18 died in the US from child-abuse in 2019. Tripling the number of child abuse hospitalizations, which this study shows happened, would result in 2,500 additional child deaths from abuse per year that may be a direct consequence of COVID-19 school closures.

As of October 6, 2021, 499 children under 18 have died from COVID-19 in the US. This suggests that closing schools resulted in five times the number of childhood deaths than were caused by the virus itself.

The implications? Although the initial lockdown was prudent and beneficial, not only to protect children but also family members who children could bring COVID home to, the policy of continuing school closings should be set by weighing the resulting increase in child abuse against the relatively lower health risk to children of COVID itself.

Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of eight research studies on their effective treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.

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