COVID-19 stresses could lead to more child abuse, but families can reduce risks

Families facing financial, emotional and other stresses — combined with long periods of time isolated at home with a lack of structure — can lead to potentially dangerous situations.

Families having to face financial, emotional and other stresses — combined with long periods of time isolated at home with a lack of structure during the COVID-19 pandemic — can lead to potentially dangerous situations when it comes to child abuse. According to pediatricians, including one who heads a local task force on child abuse, there are steps caregivers can take to reduce the risks.

“Research has found that when families are stressed, children are at an increased risk of being abused,” said Kelly Dauk, M.D., chair of the Norton Children’s Hospital Child Abuse Task Force and pediatrician with Norton Children’s Inpatient Care, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Caregivers must take care of themselves physically and emotionally. During this time when in-person visits are discouraged, it’s important for caregivers to maintain connections to friends, family and others in the community, even if that’s by video or on the phone.”

Report suspected child abuse

In Kentucky:
(877) KY-SAFE1 (597-2331)

In Indiana:
(800) 800-5556

Get confidential help

The National Child Abuse Hotline offers professional crisis counselors who can provide intervention, information and referrals to emergency, social services and support resources. Calls are confidential.

(800) 4-A-CHILD (422-4453)

During times of high stress, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following tips on how to support your family:

  • Engage your children in constructive activities. Bored or frustrated children are more likely to act out.
  • Help children with their fears. Kids who are old enough to follow the news may be afraid. You can acknowledge the fear and discuss all the things you are doing to stay healthy, such as washing hands and staying home to avoid germs.
  • Know when not to respond. As long as your child isn’t doing something dangerous and gets plenty of attention for good behavior, ignoring bad behavior can be an effective way of stopping it.
  • Catch them being good. Children need to know when they do something bad — and when they do something good. Notice good behavior and point it out, praising success and good tries.
  • Give them your attention. The most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention — to reinforce good behaviors and discourage others. When parents are trying to work at home, this can be particularly challenging. Clear communication and setting expectations can help, particularly with older children.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Learn other prevention tips and how to identify abuse at