Hamilton health-care experts worry about increased child abuse during pandemic


Published May 14, 2021 at 2:06 pm


Experts in child wellness in are raising awareness when it comes to maltreatment of children during the pandemic.

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) says that while professionals are still gathering evidence, risk factors have increased — making children particularly vulnerable.

Child maltreatment includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and exposure to intimate partner violence — also known as domestic violence.

“Add the pandemic’s stressors to the mix and it’s more important than ever to be alert to signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect in children so that we can intervene to support children and their families,” says Anne Niec, director of the Child Advocacy and Assessment Program at Hamilton Health Sciences’ McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH).

“These risk factors include economic uncertainty, job losses and limited access to supports including friends, relatives and teachers, as well as healthcare and social services,” says Harriet MacMillan, psychiatrist and pediatrician with the program.

HHS says teachers, neighbours, daycare providers, sports coaches, and others who are typically involved in a child’s life outside of the home are often the ones who notice and report child abuse and neglect.

But with the pandemic, the stay-at-home orders, and virtual learning, there is less opportunity to witness and intervene in these instances of child maltreatment.

HHS says adults should be aware of the following signs that could indicate child maltreatment:

  • Serious or unusual injury without explanation
  • Missing school (including remotely) without explanation
  • Changes in behaviour, such as becoming withdrawn, aggressive, or sexually inappropriate

There are also things to watch out for in caregivers and their behaviour, which could point to child maltreatment.

What to watch out for in caregivers, according to HHS:

  • Feelings of negativity, hostility or rejection towards a child
  • Developmentally inappropriate expectations or interactions with a child, including inappropriate threats or disciplining
  • Emotional unavailability and unresponsiveness
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