MAGIC VALLEY — Not only has there been an increase in child abuse cases since the start of the pandemic, but St. Luke's Children's says they have also seen an increase in the severity of injuries within these cases.
"I saw a baby who came in with a fever, this a very common emergency department visit," Dr. Allison Gauthier, St. Luke’s Children’s Pediatric Emergency Department Director, said. "But during that visit, I quickly discovered that the baby had bruising all over. We recognized that in addition to the baby having a serious infection, they also had multiple fractures and had been injured most of their life."
In the last year, St. Luke's has seen 107 inpatient consults compared to 74 inpatient consults in 2019.
“I would say that we would see these cases in rare occurrences before COVID and now they have become so common that we have had to create additional support for the ED staff in order to have appropriate outlets to handle this," Gauthier said.
They contribute the rise in cases in part due to the pandemic and families dealing with financial stress along with social isolation. They say in addition to the rise in cases they also saw five child fatalities that were attributed to abuse and neglect. The last child fatality due to abuse and neglect they were able to find on record was in 2017.
“We know that families are under tremendous stress with the challenges of the covid pandemic and this has led to an increase in child abuse. Families are telling us that they feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities and changes that they have," Dr. Kendra Bowman, St. Luke’s Children’s Pediatric Trauma Medical Director and Surgeon, said.
Although the number of children they see in their outpatient clinic has remained the same, they worry some cases have gone unreported with classes being held virtually.
“And it's really important to consider that fact as you are considering what we can do to try and prevent this and as a pediatrician, I think ideally we have to find ways to prevent kids from being injured or abused in their homes," Dr. Matthew Cox, St. Luke’s CARES Medical Director, said.
And they say the best way for everyone to lend a helping hand to stay vigilant.
“I think the easy way to think about that is to be aware, be alert when you’re worried about a child to take action if a child tells you something listen to that child and believe what they are telling you," Cox said.
St. Luke's Children's partnered with the Idaho Children's Trust Fund along with some other organizations to create a PSA to spread the word about resources they have available to help parents.
“So it's trying to reach out everywhere across the state to help parents recognize that again there is help out there and we are encouraging you to seek it when you are feeling overwhelmed when the stress has just gotten to be too much," Roger Sherman, Idaho Children’s Trust Fund Executive Director, said.
They also have a support line that they say is not immediately connected to CPS, so parents can call for support with ease of mind.
If you or someone you know needs support during this time, you can visit their website for more resources.