In our first Kids & COVID Conversation, First Focus President Bruce Lesley spoke with a panel of experts on understanding child abuse during the coronavirus pandemic.

Reports of child abuse have dropped significantly since March when many states closed schools and began enforcing pandemic-related lockdowns. But despite the drop in reporting, our panel said, the number of removals from abusive environments has remained the same compared to pre-pandemic numbers. This data suggests that a greater percentage of the cases reported are being classified as true neglect or abuse and a lower percentage of reports are being dismissed.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Dr. Allison Jackson of Children’s National Hospital Medical Center, Kate Murphy from Texans Care for Children, Cathy Palm from the Center for Children’s Justice, and Aubrey Edwards-Luce, Senior Director of Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice at First Focus on Children discussed the intersection of the child welfare system, COVID and the economic recession the United States is currently experiencing.

“This pandemic has opened our eyes to say we can’t go back, we will do better,” said Edwards-Luce. It is up to advocates and policymakers, she said, to determine which aspects of the child welfare system are creating positive change to ensure that children are placed in the safest environments.

The advocates also urged flexibility and an examination of current funding initiatives and organizations.

“Are we funding the right things and what new things should we fund?” Palm said.