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Experts: Communities Key to Spotting Child Abuse During COVID-19

Teachers and other professionals who work with children now have less opportunities to interact with them and spot signs of abuse. (Adobe Stock)
Teachers and other professionals who work with children now have less opportunities to interact with them and spot signs of abuse. (Adobe Stock)
October 5, 2020

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- As schools shift to remote learning and child care centers remain closed, experts say community members will play a critical role in recognizing signs of child abuse during the pandemic and can use the TEN-4 Bruising Rule.

Bruising to the torso, ears or neck in a child four years old or younger is a red flag. And, any bruises anywhere on an infant 4 months old or younger is a medical emergency and a telltale sign of possible abuse. That's according to Dr. Christina Howard, chief of the Division of Pediatric Forensic Medicine at the University of Kentucky.

She said many licensed child care centers across the state have shut their doors, and parents desperate for child care are forced to rely on people they don't know, who may not be vetted through background checks.

"I think a lot of parents don't know that when they are looking into home sitters, for example, that they can ask the home sitter to sign a waiver for them to see if they've had any substantiated cases of abuse with the state," Howard said.

Research has found child maltreatment and aggressive parenting increased during the Great Recession, and Howard expects a similar or worse trend as the pandemic continues to drive economic hardship and uncertainty.

The Face It Movement is hosting free virtual trainings this Wednesday and Thursday on spotting the signs of child abuse. For more information visit faceitmovement.org.

Keith Inman, president of Kosair Charities, said his organization is working to end child abuse in the Commonwealth by 2023. He believes the coronavirus will change how state and local agencies handle suspected child abuse and neglect cases.

"The pandemic will alter the way we have to deal with abuse and neglect," Inman said. "So, we've got to figure out a different way to put our eyes on children. And a lot of agencies are doing drive-bys, they are dropping off supplies at the house, seeing different ways to force interactions."

Lynn Hulsey, director of programs at the Family Enrichment Center in Bowling Green, has been finding ways to interact with families and keep eyes on children in her region during the crisis.

"Through the whole pandemic, we never stopped providing virtual visits so that if something was happening in the family, that they would be comfortable enough to let us know that they were struggling so that we could help them through that," Hulsey said.

Kentucky continues to have the highest rate of child abuse in the nation and double the national rate of infant maltreatment. All Kentucky adults are mandated reporters of child abuse and can make reports to the state hotline at 1-877-KYSAFE1.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY