Great Ormond Street reports dramatic rise in suspected domestic child abuse during lockdown
Thursday, July 9, 2020
Ten babies presented with abusive head trauma at the specialist children’s hospital in the first month of lockdown, pointing to a ‘silent pandemic’ of suspected domestic child abuse amid the pandemic, a report published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood has found.
London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital saw nearly 15 times the number of cases of apparent child abuse among young children in one month compared with the same period in the previous three years.
The babies, six boys and four girls, ranging from 17 days old to 13 months, were admitted with extensive bruising, swollen scalps, breathing issues, loss of consciousness and seizures.
Scans revealed brain bleeds, tissue bruising and skull fractures as well as bone fractures elsewhere.
This figure compares with an average of 0.67 cases a month for the same period in 2017, 2018, and 2019, representing an increase of 1493 per cent in 2020, say the authors.
All the babies’ families lived in areas of social and economic deprivation: two had previous criminal histories, three had mental health disorders, and four had financial concerns.
The authors warned that this sobering figure is likely ‘under-represented’ due to public avoidance of hospitals at this time. Notably two parents cited fears of contracting SARS-CoV-2 as a reason for delayed presentation.
The report concludes, ‘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.’
Dr Alison Steele, officer for Child Protection at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which co-owns Archives of Disease in Childhood with British Medical Journal (BMJ), commented, ‘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.’
She added, ‘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.’
And she warned, ‘There is a very real danger that, under lockdown, children are falling through the safety net because of reduced access to support services and fewer opportunities for people outside the family to sound the alarm.’
- Read the full report here