The Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Child Abuse and Neglect Reports in Oklahoma

Sheridan Evans, Ashton Gatewood, John Whelan, Tessa Chesher, Sara Coffey, Amy D. Hendrix, Sarah J. Passmore, Michael A. Baxter, Micah Hartwell

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the health of pediatric populations, including concerns of malnutrition, anxiety and depression, and child abuse and neglect. The majority of child abuse reports in Oklahoma in 2017 were made by law enforcement, child welfare staff, relatives, schools, and hospitals. Given that COVID-19 has resulted in less interaction with many of these professionals, there is concern for decreased rates of reporting child abuse and neglect. Our objective is to determine if there has been any change in surveillance reports of alleged physical and sexual child abuse and neglect in Oklahoma between 2017 and 2020.

Methods: Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Child Welfare Services (CWS) provided surveillance data for each county from July 2017 through June 2020 of alleged physical and sexual child abuse and neglect. Using economic forecasting models via autoregressive integrated moving average algorithms (ARIMA), we predicted the values for the months of February through June of 2019 as if COVID-19 pandemic and Stay-at-Home orders had not occurred. We then assessed the difference between surveilled cases reported to CWS and the predicted values. Lastly, we applied risk ratios and percent relative effect calculations to county level data.

Results: Although the trend of child abuse and neglect has been increasing over the past 3 years, our results show that as of May 2020, there was a significant difference between the expected number of reports (1699, 95%CI: 1393-2005) and the actual number of all surveilled allegations reported to CWS (1254), a deviation of 26.2%. Reports of physical abuse were 38.3% lower and reports of neglect were 24.7% lower than predicted values for May— both of which remained significantly lower than expected in June. Overall, rural counties were less likely to have decreased reporting of child abuse (Risk Ratio: 0.83); however, were more likely to have larger decreases where lower reporting occurred.

Conclusion: Despite the 3-year trend of increasing child abuse and neglect reports in Oklahoma, the results of this study show a significant decrease in total reports and allegations from the predicted numbers in May 2020 along with significant decreases in reports of physical abuse and neglect in June 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased risk factors for abuse including increasing rates of mental health issues, social isolation, and familial stress. There are also decreased protective factors such as having social networks, a caring adult outside the home to serve as a mentor, and community support. Additionally, the pandemic has resulted in less interaction with those who most commonly report abuse and neglect in Oklahoma, including school staff and medical personnel. Considering these factors and the predicted number of reports for May and June 2020, the significant decrease in reports and allegations is cause for concern of underreporting. Without new policy and increased funding for appropriate services and resources, children will continue to suffer the ramifications for the foreseeable future.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 22 Feb 2021
EventOklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Research Days 2021: Poster presentation - Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Campus, Tulsa, United States
Duration: 22 Feb 202126 Feb 2021


ConferenceOklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Research Days 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • Child Abuse
  • Child Neglect
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus
  • Pandemic


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