To report Child Abuse and Neglect: https://www2.illinois.gov/dcfs/safekids/reporting/Pages/index.aspx
In March, schools sent children home and students across Illinois and the nation sequestered in their homes where they attempted to continue their schoolwork remotely, in front of their computer screens. Before too long child advocates nationwide observed an alarming trend – significant decreases in calls to child abuse hotlines. States reported precipitous drops – upwards to 50% in some states. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services reported a nearly 45% drop in calls as children left their classrooms, separated from their teachers and other school personnel who are often the very professionals who detect and report suspicions of child maltreatment. In Illinois, 57% of the calls to the hotline are initiated by school personnel acting in their capacity as mandated reporters. As children lost in-person contact with their teachers, school social workers, and coaches, we watched in dismay as calls dropped, concerned that this did not signal an actual drop in abuse but rather the loss of a lifeline for many children, now living isolated in homes where they were not safe.
The correlation between the quarantine and the drop in calls continued to gain even greater significance as researchers and the media reported a frightening increase in the number of domestic violence incidents nationwide and internationally. Child advocates immediately recognized the troubling co-occurrence that researchers have long understood – children and mothers at higher risk of interpersonal violence in their own homes. Researchers estimate that children who reside in homes with some history of domestic violence “are as much as 60 times the risk of child abuse or neglect compared to the general U.S. child population” (Campbell, 2020, Thackeray et al. 2010). The pandemic has exacerbated this risk by creating several other situations for many families that are the underlying conditions for domestic violence and child maltreatment: unemployment, reduced income, alcohol abuse, and stress.
When Illinois moved into Phase 4 and there were opportunities for more interactions for children, we breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that mothers and their children could seek assistance if necessary, speaking safely for the first time in many weeks. We also anticipated an increase in calls to child abuse hotlines when schools re-opened, with many school districts preparing teachers for disclosures and offering additional training for recognizing signs of trauma. Unfortunately, the majority of districts had to reconcile safety and risk, with many school boards voting for either hybrid or entirely remote instruction for the foreseeable future. The safety net schools offer at-risk children has again been reduced to virtual encounters with teachers who are making every effort to read between the lines, searching for any sign of distress or fear. Until that time when our children can once again be seen and heard we need to be those extra eyes and ears, intervening whenever possible. The village it takes to raise and protect a child may not be the size it once was but each of us can be a lifeline in a child’s life.
Campbell, A. (2020). An increasing risk of family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic: Strengthening community collaboration to save lives. Forensic Science International Reports 10.1016/j.fsir.2020.100089 PMCID: PMC7152912
Thackeray J., Hibbard R., Dowd D. The committee on child abuse and neglect, & the committee on injury, violence, and poison prevention. Intimate partner violence: the role of the pediatrician. Pediatrics. 2010;125(5):1094–1100. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-0451.
This article was originally published in September 2020 as part of The CPAA Journal - Fall 2020 edition.
Dr. Betsy Goulet is a Clinical Assistant Professor for the Department of Public Administration and Director of the Child Advocacy Studies (CAST) Program.
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