Across the United States, reports to child protective services (CPS) hotlines have dropped significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, numerous concerns have been raised that the decline in calls to CPS reflect the reduction in surveillance and not an actual reduction in risk or occurrence of child abuse and neglect. Similarly, there are concerns that domestic violence (DV) has also increased during the pandemic. Given these concerns and that recent studies have identified that about 20% of CPS reports include allegations of domestic violence, the aim of this study was to examine trends in CPS reports with allegations of domestic violence before and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
We used statewide California CPS administrative records from January 1st, 2016 through the second quarter of 2020 (July 31st, 2020). In total, there were 1,828,135 reports involving 2,422,058 children. Maltreatment data included the date of report, a binary indicator for alleged concerns of DV, and reporter type (non-mandated reporter, social service professional, medical provider, law enforcement, or educator). We calculated the proportion of DV allegations as a function of total CPS reports by week and year. To identify CPS seasonality reporting dynamics, we created a variable identifying schools being in session, summer breaks, winter/Thanksgiving breaks, or remote learning due to COVID-19. We implemented an interrupted-time series (ITS) analysis to evaluate whether or not there was a change in DV allegations in CPS reports corresponding to the COVID-19 pandemic and stratified it by reporter type.
The onset of COVID-19 led to in-person school closures and stay-at-home orders in 2020 that were associated with significant changes in number of CPS reports in California. A large drop was observed from over 10,000 reports during the first week of March 2020 to less than 4,400 the first week of April 2020. We identified seasonal trends consistent with school breaks; for weeks when school was in session, the mean was 11.5% of reports with DV allegations which was lower than summer break (14.3%), winter/Thanksgiving break (15.5%), and the weeks after the COVID-19-related school closures (15.5%). The count of CPS reports dropped with the onset of COVID-19 closures for both social service professionals and educators, similar to the counts of reports from educators during summer months. In contrast, reports from law enforcement, medical professionals, and non-mandated reporters were steady before and after the onset of COVID-19. In the ITS analysis, we found a 25% increase in the rate of reports with DV allegations compared to the expected numbers of CPS reports with DV allegations, after adjusting for seasonality and controlling for the count of all CPS reports (relative risk (RR): 1.25; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.19 - 1.32; p < 0.0001).
We identified substantial changes in the share of CPS reports in California that included allegations of DV following in-person school and other closures associated with COVID-19. The current analysis also highlights the seasonality of CPS reports generally, and reports with DV allegations specifically.