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Stories and information in our region on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child Abuse Victims Lose Important Advocates As Schools Remain Shut

Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

Federal data show over 20% of child abuse and neglect cases are reported to officials by someone at school, like a teacher or social worker. 

Kids spend so much of their day at school that it makes sense school personnel are often among the first to notice red flags like bruises or behavioral changes.  

Now, children have been home from school for over a month. That means they’re not in front of bus drivers, teachers and coaches who are charged with noticing signs of abuse. 

Keith Scott, director of education at the Safe Center on Long Island, said calls to the mandated reporter hotline in New York are way down. 

“We're very fearful, and it's going to be very likely that the abuse [reports] will significantly increase once the school doors open back up,” Scott said. 

“It's not just that there's an under report of cases right now because people aren't seeing children. There's most likely more abuse going on.”

As evidence, Scott points to theincrease in domestic violence calls that have been recorded since widespread stay-at-home orders went into effect. He said child abuse reports increased during the Great Recession of 2008 — and now, we’re in a financial crisis, on top of a public health crisis. 

“People are stressed more than ever,” Scott said. 

“And once again, those that are stressed, that have abusive tendencies and an abusive nature, most likely will act out those tendencies on their family.”

Scott said it’s time for everyone — mandated reporter or not — to be vigilant about what’s going on in the community. 

“Don't be that neighbor that neglects making that phone call,” Scott said. 

“Call it in if you suspect anything at all. The worst that happens is the police come out and you were wrong. But at the end of the day, the best thing that happens is we could save a child's life.”

Vanessa Dorantes, commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, told the New Haven Register that reports by mandated reporters dropped 33% last month compared to March 2019.   

“Visible children are children that can be protected,” said Ken Mysogland, external affairs chief at the Department of Children and Families.

“And in Connecticut, approximately 80% of the time a report is received at our Careline, it is from a mandated reporter such as school, police and medical personnel,” Mysogland said.

Mysogland said parenting has always been hard work, but it’s even harder now with the stresses of the pandemic. Many families have lost their jobs or businesses; some are working from home, caring for a loved one, homeschooling their children — or all three. 

That’s why Connecticut has set up a separate hotline called Talk It Out CT for parents and caregivers who feel overwhelmed, or just need someone to talk to. That number is 1-833-258-5011.

“We know that some individuals who will be calling this line, during the course of that conversation, will also express perhaps a tangible need regarding food or housing or other support, and that's fine as well,” Mysogland said.

Despite the hardships of the pandemic, Mysogland said the state Department of Children and Families is still there for residents who need them — but the community needs help from good neighbors, too.

“Actively outreach to individuals and families that you believe need that extra support, that phone call, that FaceTime,” Mysogland said.

To report suspected child abuse or neglect in Connecticut, call 1-800-842-2288. In New York, the Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-342-3720. 

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Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.
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