HELENA, Mont. – With schools closed and teachers unable to report suspected cases of abuse and neglect, child welfare agencies have lost some of their best eyes and ears during a stressful time for families who have lost jobs and are locked down together during the coronavirus pandemic.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and across the country, states are reporting fewer calls to child abuse hotlines, not because officials believe there are fewer cases but because they're going unreported.
“When there are large-scale job losses in communities, child maltreatment rates go up,” said Anna Gassman-Pines, a Duke University public policy professor whose expertise includes the effect of unemployment on children. “So we all need to be thinking about, during this time of stay-at-home orders and widespread economic strain, that those are the conditions under which families with preexisting vulnerabilities might be under — a lot of increased strain and stress.”
Calls to Washington state’s child abuse hotline are down about 50%, while Montana, Oklahoma and Louisiana are reporting about a 45% reduction since schools closed last month to slow the spread of the virus. Arizona's calls are down a third compared with previous weeks, and Nevada has seen a 14% drop compared with March 2019.
“That means many children are suffering in silence,” said Darren DaRonco, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Child Safety.
Agencies are now asking others to fill in the reporting gaps that have emerged with school closures.
“Everyone, whether you’re a store clerk, a mailman, a neighbor or a relative, everyone has the responsibility of reporting child abuse,” said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, whose state has seen calls drop by half in recent weeks. “While calls have gone down, that doesn’t mean abuse has stopped.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently echoed that sentiment, saying “we do not have enough eyes on these children” and asking “everyone else to try to be more vigilant.”