Child maltreatment in the time of COVID-19: Changes in the Florida foster care system surrounding the COVID-19 safer-at-home order

Erica D. Musser, Cameron Riopelle, Robert Latham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Media outlets have suggested that rates of child maltreatment may increase during the global COVID-19 pandemic. The few empirical studies that have examined pandemic related changes in rates of child maltreatment have relied predominantly on reports of suspected maltreatment. Objective: This study examines rates of documented, substantiated child maltreatment resulting in foster care placement, as well as demographic correlates of child maltreatment within the foster care system, before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants and setting: Data were available for all youth in the FL foster care system from January 1, 2001 through June 30, 2020 (i.e., > 304,000 youth; > 1.1 million total placements). Methods: This study utilizes data from the Florida State Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS). Results: Results revealed a decrease in the number of youths placed in the FL foster care system during the COVID-19 pandemic with the greatest reduction in April, 2020 during the Safer-at-Home Order (24 % fewer youth in 2020 than 2019). In contrast, the percentage of placements into foster care due to maltreatment increased by 3.34 %. Demographic-linked differences were observed in placement rates and exposure to maltreatment. Conclusions: While prior work suggests that reports of child maltreatment have decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, this study demonstrates that overall rates of substantiated maltreatment resulting in foster care placement have increased for White youth, while rates of placement of due to inadequate supervision, emotional neglect, and/or parental substance use have decreased for Black youth. Implications for policy and future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104945
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Child maltreatment
  • Children and youth
  • Foster care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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