US shelter in place policies and child abuse Google search volume during the COVID-19 pandemic

Corinne A. Riddell, Kriszta Farkas, Krista Neumann, Jeanie Santaularia, Jennifer Ahern, Susan M. Mason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unemployment, school closures, movement restrictions, and social isolation, all of which are child abuse risk factors. Our objective was to estimate the effect of COVID-19 shelter in place (SIP) policies on child abuse as captured by Google searches. We applied a differences-in-differences design to estimate the effect of SIP on child abuse search volume. We linked state-level SIP policies to outcome data from the Google Health Trends Application Programming Interface. The outcome was searches for child abuse-related phrases as a scaled proportion of total searches for each state-week between December 31, 2017 and June 14, 2020. Between 914 and 1512 phrases were included for each abuse subdomain (physical, sexual, and emotional). Eight states and DC were excluded because of suppressed outcome data. Of the remaining states, 38 introduced a SIP policy between March 19, 2020 and April 7, 2020 and 4 states did not. The introduction of SIP generally led to no change, except for a slight reduction in child abuse search volume in weeks 8–10 post-SIP introduction, net of changes experienced by states that did not introduce SIP at the same time. We did not find strong evidence for an effect of SIP on child abuse searches. However, an increase in total search volume during the pandemic that may be differential between states with and without SIP policies could have biased these findings. Future work should examine the effect of SIP at the individual and population level using other data sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107215
JournalPreventive medicine
Volume163
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The results reported herein were funded by two pilot grants, one from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development via the Berkeley Population Center (grant P2CHD073964 ); and the other from The Hawley Family Fund through the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota (no grant number); This work was also supported by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development via grants from the Minnesota Population Center and the Interdisciplinary Population Health Science Training Program at the University of Minnesota ( T32HD095134 and P2CHD041023 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Child abuse
  • Child neglect
  • Shelter in place

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