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Severe child abuse cases continue to rise with 3-year-old's death on Easter Sunday

Posted April 15, 2020

For the third time in less than a month, a child has died at Cook Children’s due to severe child abuse. The latest victim is a 3-year-old who died early Easter morning.

“It’s heartbreaking. We’ve seen a substantial increase in serious child abuse cases at Cook Children’s recently,” said Dr. Jamye Coffman, medical director of the Cook Children’s Center for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect and the CARE team. “We can’t say for certain if the effects of COVID-19 are driving this increase. All we can do right now is sound the alarm about what we are seeing.”

Since March 17, eight children have been admitted to Cook Children’s Medical Center for injuries related to child abuse. Three of those children died. To help put that number in perspective, Cook Children’s typically sees six child abuse deaths a year.

“It’s concerning to see this spike coincide with the pandemic, especially without knowing when it will come to an end or the ultimate toll it will take on our communities,” said Dr. Anu Partap, director of the Center for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect at Cook Children’s. “With stay-at-home orders in effect, coupled with the loss of jobs, support systems and routines, the results can be disastrous.”

In observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, Cook Children’s staff planted 2,055 pinwheels outside of the medical center to represent each child abuse visit in 2019. With isolation and stresses mounting due to COVID-19, we could see even more pinwheels planted at the hospital next year.

“We know that families are under more stress, whether related to income or children being out of school. There’s a lot of pressure on parents and caregivers right now,” Coffman said. “What’s most concerning for us is that we saw a similar rise in child abuse during the recession. We don’t want to see that again.”

Coffman said that in 2008, prior to the recession, the most common cause of death due to traumatic injuries in children was car accidents. During the recession, that changed to abusive head trauma.

“As North Texas heads into the peak of COVID-19, we have to take steps to support one another and rally, as we would during any natural disaster,” Partap said. “We can offer help, a listening ear or even just empathy for a parent who is struggling.”

Partap suggested reaching out to friends and family with children, either virtually or by phone, just to check in and offer support. If you are a parent who is struggling, know the best thing you can do is ask for help.

Social distancing doesn’t mean you’re alone

  • Stay in regular contact with family, friends and neighbors by phone, social media or other technology. Even a few minutes of conversation a day is important.
  • Take part in healthy activities that relieve stress. Go outside, take a walk, read or tell stories. Find ways to find joy and make connections.

Reduce the pressures of parenting

  • You may feel like you have a lot more on your to-do list, especially with kids at home.
  • Feel good about what is going well and celebrate the small things. Pat yourself on the back for a decent meal, a funny joke or just quiet moments.
  • Build a new routine at home. Remember to include breaks for everyone to take care of themselves with downtime, playtime and exercise.
  • Speak up when you need help and offer support to others when you can.

Reach out for help

Sometimes the pressure can be too much. Here are 24-hour, free help lines for different needs:

  • For confidential support when you need help with the stresses of parenting, contact Child Help. Call or text 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or live chat.
  • For help with teen-specific concerns, call Texas Youth Helpline: 800-989-6884 or text 512-872-5777.
  • For help with parenting tips, local resources and to learn about family fun, visit helpandhope.org.
  • For mental health support and crisis care, contact iCARE. Call or text iCARE at 817-335-3022.
  • For access to services through a social service hotline, dial 211 or 877-541-7905 or visit 211texas.org.

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