Reports of child abuse back up with kids back in school
By Zaira Perez Staff Writer email@example.com
Nov 15, 2020
The Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County, seen July 24 in Denton, is a nonprofit that fights the sexual abuse of children.
As Denton County students returned to in-person classes and even virtual learning, reports of abuse from people who work with vulnerable populations have increased, according to the Denton County Children’s Advocacy Center.
Kristen Howell, CEO of the Denton County center, said in July that they were anticipating a surge in reports when classes resumed in the fall . She said they were worried because not everyone was planning on sending their children to in-person classes where professional reporters — people who work closely with a vulnerable population — could more easily spot signs of abuse.
Denton County is now about three months into the academic year. Reports from professionals have drastically increased and reports overall are catching up to last year’s numbers, Howell said.
“At the end of the nine-week period in school, when kids elected to go back [to in-person classes], you could see a massive increase in professional reports,” Howell said. “It’s what we hypothesized. Teachers are a really important front-line defense in recognizing child abuse in kids. It really is remarkable to see professional reports at 20 per week and then starting in the middle of September, [it’s] 90, 90, 90.”
The Children’s Advocacy Center works cases of severe child abuse that rise to criminal offenses. Howell said in July that they help coordinate between law enforcement and Child Protective Services in their investigation to make sure one isn’t taking priority over the other.
The number of professional reports to the center rose dramatically in the last week of September. According to data from the Denton County center, 91 of 169 reports came from professionals that week. Before then, the center saw an average of 22.5 reports per week from professionals between late July to the end of September.
From late July to mid-October, the total number of overall reports rose from 99 to 168 per week. The peak was 174 reports in the first week of October. That week, 95 reports came from professionals. The highest number of reports from professionals so far is 103 from Oct. 18 to Oct. 24.
“It was [from] people going back to school,” Howell said. “September and October have been our two biggest months, and November has been more of the same. We’re really still worried about kids and the danger kids have been facing in virtual school or not enrolled in school at all.”
By late October, Denton ISD campuses scrapped hybrid learning, a model where students were attending classes in person on a rotating schedule. Students had the option of returning solely to in-person classes, and a majority of students in late October were back in their old classrooms.
“We don’t have numbers specifically regarding professional reports after virtual teaching but we certainly have plenty of cases that once investigation opens, we are seeing that they were because of [the] virtual classroom,” Howell said.
She said those reports were either identified in a virtual classroom or it was another incident that was caught online.
Statewide, calls to the Texas Abuse Hotline have returned to historic average levels, said Marissa Gonzales, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The hotline handles calls where a situation is urgent — someone is facing an immediate risk of abuse or neglect that could result in serious harm or death — regarding children, adults with disabilities and people 65 years old or older.
The hotline handled 30,865 calls in September 2020 compared to 31,175 in September 2019. In October 2020, the number of calls came out to 31,446 while there were 33,880 calls in October 2019.
The number of reports of child abuse have been down all year, Howell said, although the number of reports to the Denton County center in October neared the 2019 figures. Howell said they had 712 reports total in October 2019 compared to 686 October 2020.
Not every kid is back taking in-person classes, though. But even through virtual classes on Zoom, Dr. Kristen Kram, the Director of Clinical Services for Denton County Friends of the Family, said people still need to watch out for bruises or strange marks on children as some signs of abuse.
“For people watching, they have a unique view into a child’s actual home space, so they could be catching a mom who may be a victim of domestic violence or who is acting very fearful,” Kram said. “They can reach out to mom and see if she’s OK and get her connected to services, which would also help the child.”
Kram said reports to Denton County Friends of the Family have increased over the past couple of months. She said they had a lower number of intakes due to COVID-19, but added that they’ve “exploded” since September. She said the spike could be a combination of more abuse as well as more people reaching out for help.
“I think there has been a general increase [in abuse] because you’re seeing that with police calls,” Kram said. “They’re getting an increase in domestic disturbances. But initially people were holding off [on reaching out] because they thought this would be over a long time ago. But now that we’re in our awful, new reality, people are seeking out help when they need it because this is the platform we’ll be in for a while.”
ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.