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Child abuse cases were on the rise during the first several months of the pandemic, a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows.

The startling data revealed that nearly 504 Black children died due to child maltreatment, but the findings suggest an even bigger problem. The troubling report indicates a gloomy reality for Black children, “who are now three times more likely to die of suspected child abuse or neglect than white children,” the report noted. A large number of those fatalities were underreported and barely investigated.

Aysha E. Schomburg, of the department’s Children’s Bureau, told AP News, that COVID-19 drastically affected the ability of child welfare to examine the reported cases, but unfortunately, the agency was already experiencing a disturbing trend in unreported cases of child abuse, way before the pandemic. “The report noted an overall 10 percent drop in the number of child protective services cases handled by states in the early days of the pandemic,” according to AP News.

“Disparities that were present before the pandemic were intensified, and COVID-19 exposed gaps in our human services delivery system,” she explained.

Amy Harfeld, of the Children’s Advocacy Institute, attributed the troubling trend impart to child welfare’s protocol. Social workers often investigate a child’s death, only if the family has consented and complied with the agency.

“The numbers that we know of are not reflective of the numbers that are experienced,” Harfeld added.

The data reflects incidents that occurred from October 2019 to September 2020. Additionally, the newly released report found a 4 percent decrease in child abuse-related deaths, but the overall data showed a 17 percent spike in the number of cases involving Black children. The report also indicated an 11 percent increase among babies born with prenatal substance exposure. AP News noted that the sad discovery could have been exacerbated by the pandemic causing a large decline in the number of available rehab programs for expectant mothers during the height COVID-19.

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