PARK CITY, Utah. — Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital is planting more than 1,800 pinwheels in honor of children who have died as a result of child abuse nationwide, and experts remain concerned that additional children may have experienced abuse during the COVID pandemic.
It is unclear how much the pandemic has contributed to child abuse in Utah. But what is clear – now more than ever – is that everyone must act to protect children, said Dr. Antoinette Laskey from the University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital.
“It’s all of our duty to report when we suspect there is child abuse or neglect. Reporting is confidential and safe. It will not put you or others at risk or in danger, and it may end up saving a child’s life,” said Dr. Laskey, division chief of child protection and family health for University of Utah Health and medical director of Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital’s Center for Safe and Healthy Families.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Primary Children’s caregivers have planted 1,809 blue and silver pinwheels on the hospital’s lawn as part of the “Pinwheels for Child Abuse Prevention” project. Each pinwheel represents one for each child who died nationwide as a result of child abuse in 2019.
The number of child deaths rose 3 percent from the previous year, continuing an upward trend.
In 2019, child protective services agencies nationwide received 4.4 million child abuse referrals for nearly 7.9 million children, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Child abuse referrals include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, neglect, and sex trafficking.
In Utah, more than 10,500 children were victims of child abuse in 2019.
It’s uncertain how the pandemic affected child abuse trends in Utah during the past year, Dr. Laskey said.
Suspected child abuse is most often reported by professionals who have contact with the child as part of their job, including teachers, police, and daycare and health care providers. These groups make up 69 percent of reports, federal data show.
When Utah schools, daycares, and businesses closed in spring 2020 due to the pandemic, reports of children with unexplained bruises plummeted, Dr. Laskey said. So did reports of child sexual assaults.
But at the same time, and throughout 2020, child abuse visits to the Primary Children’s emergency department remained at levels similar to the year before, Dr. Laskey noted.
Meanwhile, reports of domestic violence in Utah increased, said Dr. Laskey, leading her to believe that more children may be witnessing violence and experiencing abuse at home.
Since Utah schools returned to in-person learning, reports of child abuse have been rising, Dr. Laskey said, adding that It will take more time to determine how the pandemic affected child abuse trends in Utah. Meanwhile, if people suspect a child is being abused, it’s critical to report it to authorities.
“If a child tells you they’re being abused, listen to them, believe them. Know that they’re telling you because you’re their hope,” said Dr. Laskey. “Let the child know that the abuse is not their fault and that they are smart and brave for disclosing the abuse. Then, report it. There is no need to confront someone you suspect is harming a child. Report your suspicions to the authorities.”
Anyone who suspects child abuse should call the National Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline at 1-855-323-3237 or local law enforcement.