COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Despite suspicions that child abuse could be worsening amid the pandemic, it's been difficult to get concrete information confirming whether that's actually true. Now, we're starting to see the first statistics confirming child abuse has been on the rise locally since the pandemic began.
Children's Hospital Colorado reports that child abuse is now the second-highest cause for children to come to their emergency department, reporting that the numbers continue to rise month-over-month since the pandemic began. Non-accidental trauma, or child abuse, accounts for 11.7% of the trauma cases seen at the hospital.
"The impact of the pandemic has been widespread as we experience a number of stressors, including children being out of school or out of daycare, we see parents and families that have lost their employment or they're facing housing insecurity, all of those things lead to an increase in family stress that can come out in unhealthy ways at different times," Alecia DeLorme, Children's Hospital Colorado Social Worker, said.
When trauma cases at Children's Hospital Colorado are consistent with possible child abuse, the emergency department team will work closely with the hospital's social workers to provide crisis intervention, child advocacy, and ultimately, reporting to the El Paso County's Department of Human Services.
From there, if the case meets the criteria, it will be assigned to a Children Youth and Family Services Intake Manager, like April Jenkins.
While Jenkins saw a decrease in the amount of cases she was handling, she saw the severity of those cases increase. Due to seeing more significant injuries in children, Jenkins said she's been working a lot more with the hospital.
"It's very sad. It's very concerning," Jenkins said. "It's also evidence that the families in our community are having a hard time and they're really stressed and they're really struggling."
Jenkins emphasized that the Department of Human Services is focused on preserving families as much as possible, and helping them thrive. They offer a plethora of services available for parents and families who might be struggling. Click here for a link to more information about those services.
Although COVID-19 restrictions are loosening, many kids are still spending less time with adults who can spot signs of child abuse or neglect, so Children's Hospital Colorado is asking the public to keep their eye out for possible sings of abuse. Every child reacts differently to abuse or neglect, but the most common sign is a significant change in behavior.
DeLorme is also asking you to check in on your neighbors.
"One of the most important things that friends and family can be doing is reaching out to check in on the children and the families that are in their lives. Tangible ways that this can be done [is] offering for potentially an outdoor play date with the kids that are the same age as yours, or offering to take the kids for an hour or two to give to give your friend or your family member a break," DeLorme said, pointing out that many parents aren't getting the same kind of breaks in childcare, like school and playdates, that they were getting prior to the pandemic.
If you suspect child abuse is taking place, you can always call the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 844-CO-4-Kids. It's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you are witnessing a child in a life-threatening situation, you should call 911 immediately.