Child safety concerns at hospitals recede during coronavirus pandemic, according to study

Child protection concerns among patients at two Dublin children’s hospitals fell during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new study.

However, the concerns that were raised were more complex and involved a greater proportion of physical and emotional abuse concerns, researchers from Crumlin and Tallaght hospitals found.

The study, published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science, attempted to determine whether child maltreatment increased during the pandemic, when social isolation due to lockdowns potentially left victims trapped with abusers.

Researchers looked at child protection concerns in Crumlin and Tallaght between March and August 2020, during the pandemic, and compared them to the same period in 2019.

The number of concerns fell steeply — from 163 in 2019 to 86 the following year — after the pandemic had started. This was in line with a fall in paediatric admissions, and admissions to general hospitals, during lockdown.

The proportion of physical abuse concerns, however, increased from 11 per cent to 52.3 per cent, and emotional abuse concerns rose from 1.2 per cent to 7 per cent.

Coronavirus: 380 hospitalised

Case complexity, defined as two or more types of concerns, also rose, from 13.5 per cent to 48.8 per cent.

“During the 2020 lockdown, there were fewer assessments for child protection concern. However, there was significantly increased complexity,” the authors concluded.

The fall in child protection concerns was in line with a drop in overall admissions to the two hospitals which were down from 7,728 to 4,607 between 2019 and 2020.

Despite the decline in referral for child protection concerns, the demands on staff were found to have been greater during the lockdown because the referrals were more complex.

“Continued availability of child protection resources, clinician awareness of Covid-specific child protection issues and safe reopening of school are paramount during the pandemic,” the study authors say.

There were 380 patients with Covid-19 in hospital on Friday, down from 398 the previous day. Of these, 34 were in intensive care, up four.

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