During these stressful times, when the coronavirus is causing families to struggle economically and at the same time to lose social supports such as school, community and medical providers, many professionals predict that child abuse will increase. Yet child welfare agencies in Maine and around the country are reporting a dramatic decrease in reports of child abuse and neglect, perhaps because of that very loss of social support.

What can all of us, in particular mandated reporters, do to protect children?

• Mandated reporters must recognize that because of social isolation and financial stress, children are likely to be victims of abuse now more than ever.

• Mandated reporters should include signs of abuse in every assessment, including video and telephone.

• The Maine Office of Child and Family Services has just issued guidance on identifying child abuse and neglect during this crisis. Visit content.govdelivery.com/accounts/MEHHS/bulletins/286a3b6 to learn more, or Google “Spotting Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect During the COVID-19 Emergency.”

• A parent questionnaire developed by the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital SEEK program (Safe Environment for Every Kid) seems particularly useful during these times. SEEK strives to identify family stresses and offer families mitigating strategies. Visit seekwellbeing.org/seek-materials/ to obtain information on the SEEK program and copies of the questionnaire.


• The standard for reporting abuse remains the same: “When a person knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been or is likely to be abused or neglected,” then a report must immediately be made to child welfare at 1-800-452-1999.

• The Maine Department of Health and Human Services website has information for mandated reporters on reporting child abuse and neglect at maine.gov/dhhs/mandated-reporters.shtml; visit jpmaweb.com/product/mandated-reporter/ to view a training video.

• An app for any device is available from Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City to assist medical and nonmedical providers in identifying whether a report to child protective services is indicated. The app can be found at shorturl.at/bfil3 (or visit childrensmercy.org/health-care-providers/providers/provider-resources/apps-for-providers/ and click the “Child Protector App” link).

• Medical providers should in particular be concerned about any injury including any bruise in an infant less than 6 months of age.

Even before the current social and economic crisis, Maine Child Protective Services was documenting an increase in child abuse in the state. Statistics from 2017 and 2018 show that substantiations of child abuse and neglect increased from 2,160 to 2,665, almost a 25 percent increase in one year. The stresses for Maine children and families and, hence, the risk of abuse will only increase in the coming months. It is more important than ever for us all to try to stay connected, to support families and to be on the lookout for signs of abuse.

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