There is a close correlation between the effects of the pandemic and family crises. Serious couple conflicts exacerbated by forced coexistence, destruction of the domestic routine, economic insecurity for families and here the pandemic can take on the role of the ‘ogre’, constituting a very heavy burden for children and adolescents. Several studies conducted around the world are in fact beginning to document the increase in cases of child abuse that decline in various ways, not only with forms of physical abuse and assisted violence, but also with extreme neglect in physical care and psychological needs. Above all minors living in disadvantaged contexts are at risk, but no one is immune, in fact a survey on child abuse in the Covid era of the most important charity association dedicated to childhood in the United Kingdom, clearly shows that when stress factors increase in the family and the so-called burn out of parents, as happened in the last year following the pandemic, the risk of child abuse is soaring.
Starting from March 2020 with the beginning of the emergency, many families and many couples found themselves oppressed by very heavy stress factors: economic and work uncertainty, the overload of responsibility from teaching to childcare 24 hours a day, distance forced by grandparents. All this, especially in already difficult and problematic contexts, has been a sharp boomerang for minors. Nodal is also the exacerbation of couple conflicts in families with already previous problems. According to a recent survey by the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies of the National Research Council (Cnr-Irpps), through the MSA-Covid-19 Observatory, forced coexistence between partners involved almost 60% of the interviewees in national level. Of these, over 15% lived with young children and around 50% with children aged 12 years or older. Cohabitation took place in 15% of cases in a small apartment (about 50/70 square meters), with all that this entails in terms of reorganizing the spaces to ensure the coexistence of parents and children.
Finally, physical distancing, reducing contact between children and protective adults such as teachers, and reducing access to the emergency room, did the rest. And it is in this scenario that the initiative promoted by Menarini, an international colossus with Neapolitan DNA, for a network of pediatricians against pandemic abuse, starts again this year, thanks to new training courses Did you know that … Meetings on the reality of abuse and mistreatment during adolescence, organized with the Italian Society of Pediatrics and the Italian Federation of pediatricians. Seven hundred pediatricians will be trained to recognize the first signs of difficulty and will thus become a “sentinel” of the discomfort of minors.
“In the pandemic context, the tentacles of child abuse become even more intricate and twisted and at the same time it becomes more difficult to intercept the abuse due to social distancing and also the reduced frequency of access to pediatric emergency rooms”, declares Pietro Ferrara, coordinator of the project, national referent of the Italian Society of Pediatrics for abuse and mistreatment and professor of Pediatrics at the Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. “The radical change in domestic routine, the closure of schools and the interruption of all extracurricular activities, have made the abyss of abuse even deeper, inaccessible and silent, which, if, as always, is mainly consumed in poor socio-economic contexts, it has extended its mesh also in ‘normal’ or only ‘fragile’ contexts – adds Ferrara – There are many new ways in which the abuse in the Covid era probably manifested itself, starting with the witnessed violence certainly on the increase, enclosed and hidden by the lockdown. Surely the abuse of neglect has also increased, with children left to fend for themselves, deprived of basic basic physical care, such as cleaning and nourishment, and emotional “.
“For many minors, staying at home did not just mean giving up their habits and social life, but forced them to live with violent people every hour of the day, without having the opportunity to ask for help – said Lucia and Alberto Giovanni Aleotti, shareholders and members of the Menarini Board – In this dramatic context, the Menarini Group wanted to continue to support this unique project in the world which, since 2016, has provided pediatricians and general practitioners with the tools to be able to recognize all the signs of violence and intervene promptly “.
“The problem – underlines Luigi Nigri, project coordinator and Vice President of the Italian Federation of Pediatricians (FIMP) – is that an exceptional situation such as the one that has arisen and that has persisted for a year now, associated with all the pre-existing family and domestic problems, determines a very high risk of exacerbation: from couple conflicts, to economic problems, to drug and alcohol abuse. The discontinuity of social-health and educational services which occurred throughout the period of the emergency and last but not least the refuge of children and young people in the ‘network’ that has exposed them even more to the risk of enticement, abuse online sex and cyberbullying even more subtle and less easily identifiable. The role of initiatives like this is irreplaceable in trying to fill a training gap on the part of university and specialization courses where these issues are rarely dealt with and often in an inadequate manner “.
Several studies, albeit on limited case histories, have begun to document the increase in cases of abuse in the Covid era. A study conducted at the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore and published in the journal Child abuse & Neglect documented that in 2020 13% of pediatric injuries and trauma treated in the facility were attributable to physical abuse, against 4% of the previous year.
A work from the University of Alabama at Birmingham published in the journal Child Maltreatment showed that a series of 405 parents reported the increase in physical and verbal conflicts in the home and forms of neglect towards their children, associated with the increase in stress and loneliness perceived during the pandemic. The same work observed a second case series of 106 parents reporting an increased level of parent-child conflict during the pandemic, which was associated with a concomitant increased risk of child abuse, with several links to contingent situations such as job loss. , food insecurity and loneliness; the results point to an increased risk of abuse compared to pre-pandemic levels.