Specialists warn of huge rise in child abuse during coronavirus lockdown

Dr Alison Steele, the officer for child protection at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “This is an extremely concerning report. It is important to find out if the huge rise in suspected non-accidental head injury reported at this specialist hospital is being seen by other hospitals across the country.

“Many of these children will have been brought into hospital because there were obvious signs that the child was very unwell, but we are also extremely worried about children who are not being seen because their physical injuries or other forms of abuse or neglect are more easily hidden.”

The team compared the numbers of new cases of head injury caused by physical abuse with the same period in 2017, 2018 and 2019, when there were just 0.67 cases per month.

The symptoms prompting a hospital visit included colic (persistent crying for no obvious reason) in five of the infants, breathing issues and loss of consciousness in four, seizures in two, extensive bruising in five, swollen scalp in five and skin marks on one child. 

Some were found to have blood pooling in the brain, skull fractures, and bruising of brain tissue. Other bone fractures were also found in three of the youngsters.

The infants’ families all lived in areas of significant social and economic deprivation, and four reported financial problems. 

Although the report represented just one hospital, it echoes similar reports coming from countries that enforced similar lockdown measures as well as anecdotal reports from elsewhere in England.

Report author Dr Kish Mankadm, the clinical lead for paediatric neuroradiology at Great Ormond Street, said: “Through a personal communication with a colleague from Birmingham last week, it seems they are seeing a relative surge now, and particularly with injuries that appear not new.”

The researchers warned that the figures are likely to be an underestimate of the scale of the problem. “This sobering figure is likely under-represented due to public avoidance of hospitals at this time,” they wrote in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

“Notably, two parents in our cohort cited fears of contracting Sars-CoV-2 as a reason for delayed presentation.”

They concluded: “Hence, in the background of the intensely public Sars-CoV-2 pandemic, a more silent pandemic is occurring of which the medical community must remain astutely aware.”

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