Experts say COVID-19 is impacting child abuse reports
Chris Roark, firstname.lastname@example.org
The number of child abuse cases seen by local advocacy centers since the COVID-19 pandemic began locally has decreased drastically.
But local experts say that’s more alarming than encouraging.
Lynn Davis, president and CEO of DCAC, said there has been almost a 50-percent reduction in the reporting of child abuse cases to the organization from March, when students were still in school, to April, when they have spent the entire month at home.
“Generally reports come from other caring adults,” Davis said. “But when the child is alone or with their parents, those aren’t getting reported. Shelter in place really disrupted the normal reporting channels.”
According to data from DCAC, there were 2,066 reports of child abuse cases read at the organization in February and 2,478 in March. That number dropped to 1,485 in April.
“This (stay at home orders) has been devastating for the reporting of these cases,” Davis said.
There is an even sharper decline in reports between April of 2019, when there were 4,024 cases, to April of this year.
The Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County (CACDC) has seen similar drops in numbers.
Amy Ferdinando, director of development for CACDC, said there were 113 cases this past March and 60 in April.
“We’re worried about not getting reports,” Ferdinando said. “Teachers are our boots on the ground, but right now they’re not able to see kids on a daily basis. They’re the ones who make the reports and can tell if abuse is going on.”
Davis said once the children are again in front of caring adults who report on signs of child abuse, the number of cases will spike.
Despite the decline from March, officials at the advocacy centers are still concerned about the number of reports they are getting.
“We’re still seeing emergency and urgent cases,” Davis said. “The perpetrator may be at home with the child. So we’re seeing more physical abuse cases than we normally do. That’s one of the things that can happen when there’s a lot of pressure in the family. There could be a loss of a job, or the perpetrator isn’t used to being around the child 24/7.”
Social distancing requirements from the pandemic has limited in-person appointments with families, but both centers are still responding to urgent and emergency cases.
They’ve also shifted to a telehealth option when possible.
“It’s been a lifeline for a lot of kids,” Ferdinando said. “We’re trying to create an avenue for support. Our therapists went through the training, and I’m proud that nobody panicked and just adjusted so that we can do the right thing.”
Still, while it’s unclear when children will return to school and in what capacity, advocacy center leaders are encouraging the public to do their part and be vigilant.
“Keep your eyes and ears open,” Davis said. “If something looks suspicious or it looks like a child isn’t being taken care of, make a report. You don’t have to know for sure. Just report it, and let the experts determine if there’s anything to it.”
For information on what to look for in a possible abusive situation go to dcac.org or cadc.org .
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