Rhode Island had a 145% increase in the number of children hospitalized due to abuse and/or neglect in 2020, according to data released Tuesday by the nonprofit Rhode Island Kids Count. 

The report said 98 children were hospitalized for abuse and/or neglect in 2020, compared with 40 children in 2019, the most recent data published. 

The sharp rise was related to an increase in mental health issues and “the stresses associated with the pandemic,’’ Katherine Chu, a Kids Count spokeswoman, said in an email. The closure of daycare centers and schools during the pandemic increased stress on families, she said, and also removed children from teachers and caretakers who could report suspected abuse or neglect. 

Reports of suspected child maltreatment in the state also declined in 2020 and 2021 by more than 16% and 8%, respectively.  Investigations indicating neglect and/or abuse also declined in 2020 and 2021, the report said, by 25% and 29%, respectively. 

“The devastating effects of the pandemic fell on the shoulders of our most vulnerable children and families,” Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director for Rhode Island Kids Count, said in a statement. “Now more than ever, we need to ensure that we provide the funding to support the community-based providers that provide the mental health services, prevention services and early intervention services children need to be safe and supported.”

Kids Count recommended expanding services for at-risk young children and families, including raising Medicaid reimbursement rates for programs that serve them to improve the recruitment and retention of staff, and improving screening and evaluation tools to assess mental health needs of infants and young children who have been neglected or abused. (See a full list of the recommendations here.)

The nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation has raised concerns about the impact of the pandemic nationally on child well-being, but Chu, of Kids Count, said that comparable national data on child abuse and neglect are not yet available.

Health reporter Lynn Arditi can be reached at larditi@thepublicsradio.org. Follow her on Twitter @LynnArditi