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Don’t Assume With Kid’s Health

According to outgoing officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, warnings that incidents of child abuse would surge during the pandemic have not come to fruition.

Lynn Johnson, HHS assistant secretary for children and families, and Jerry Milner, associate commissioner of HHS’ Children’s Bureau, said that while official data for 2020 will not be available for months, there is anecdotal evidence that calls to hotlines reporting suspected abuse are down compared with 2019.

“We can’t just assume because parents have to spend 24/7 with their kids, that there’s going to be more abuse,” Johnson said.

Fair enough, but while we’re talking about assumptions, surely Johnson and Milner also realize we can’t assume abuse is not taking place because it is not being reported.

Of course there are fewer incidents being reported. Children have had less time in the presence of mandated reporters. In fact, we have spent 10 months asking families to keep to themselves as much as possible.

“To sound alarm bells, because teachers aren’t seeing kids every day, that parents are waiting to harm their kids — it’s an unfair depiction of so many parents out there doing the best under very tough circumstances,” Milner said during an interview with the Associated Press in June.

One would hope Johnson and Milner are right, and that children suffered fewer instances of abuse and neglect in 2020 than many had feared.

But their assessment seems a bit off the mark, particularly given other data from the Administration for Children and Families’ annual report on child maltreatment in the United States, which shows there had been an increase in child fatalities due to child abuse and neglect the previous year — 1,840 in 2019, up from 1,780 in 2018.

Again, if Johnson and Milner are right, wonderful! But teachers, health care professionals, law enforcement and child protective agencies know they cannot let down their guard or take for granted that no news is good news, when it comes to the health and safety of our kids.

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