Officials Face Difficulties in Reporting Child Abuse without Concrete Data
By Angelia Coyne
(HOLLYWOOD, Calif.) — Allegations of child abuse appear to be 50 % less than in the last six months according to data from the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), where general physical abuse cases fell from 17 % in March to 15 % in August of this year in addition to comparable trends found in special cases of child neglect from 37 % to 32% of that same period.
A 26 % difference of child abuse incidents found from March 2019 with 1,456 child abuse incidents reported, constrasts data of this year’s pandemic month in March recording a total of 1,154 child abuse reports.
Similarly, 4,335 allegations of child neglect were reported in March of last year but fell sharply to 3,557 allegations of child neglect cases recorded by the DCFS. Experts can only speculate around this 18 % of “reduction” in child neglect.
According to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network’s (RAINN) Camille Cooper the Vice President of Public Policy, sexual abuse has risen among young adults. With half of the contacts coming directly from minors, 22 % of the calls were from those under 18 in March.
“So a lot of the kids that were coming to the hotline were feeling pretty vulnerable and traumatized. And it was a direct result of Covid-19, because they were quarantined with their abuser.” Cooper said. “The abuser was now abusing them on a daily basis.”
67 percent was from a family member, while 79 percent said they live with the perpetrator.Camille Cooper, Public Policy at RAINN
“One of the solutions we came up with is, we are now currently working directly with the leadership in Congress to get all of the online learning platforms that children are interacting with to have a reporting function on that platform in plain sight for children, said Cooper from RAINN.
Earlier this year, the California Department of Education held a webinar “Safeguarding Children Through Distance Learning” in partnership with the California Department of Social Services, and both state and national Parent Teacher Associations. The goal of the webinar was to discuss how to implement guidelines for teachers, caregivers, and healthcare professionals to continue to be mandated reporters during the pandemic.
“California counties are reporting atypical reductions in the number of child protection services referrals to be around 50 %,” Angela Ponivas, Bureau Chief at the Office of Child Abuse who participated in the webinar said, “At the same time we really have to understand risk increased stress often leads to greater opportunity for abuse and neglect.”
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LASUD) is also providing resources to teachers and educators to help support parents, families, and caregivers during Covid-19. LAUSD is continuing with meeting the social, emotional, and mental health needs of families during Covid-19.
A spokesperson for the LAUSD said, “Support is also being provided to parents via School Mental Health Clinics and school sites by providing virtual parenting classes and support services. School teams of support staff and hotline staff are providing critical support to teachers, administrators and schools.”
The Department of Children and Family Services has been working closely with LAUSD in trying to develop new ways to inform families in the community about preventive measure for child abuse. The outreach efforts were to the 10 million residents in LA County, including English, Spanish and Asian speaking residents.
“In early April, we actively engaged in a robust public information campaign calling on residents to join us in making an investment in the welfare of families in our communities,” said Amara Suarez, of DCFS’ Public Affairs. “Our goal with this collaboration is to make it easy for parents to seek help before their challenges become unmanageable and we are called to be of service.”
Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, teachers, psychologist, and healthcare professionals no longer have access to children to monitor the signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect. The Los Angeles Office of Education has implemented virtual training sessions to the 80 school districts in the county, to raise awareness and develop interventions for prevention of child abuse.
“We partnered with the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) to enhance the child safety net for homebound families,” said Suarez. “Virtual training for Maltreatment Prevention and Intervention during remote learning will be on the DCFS and LACOE websites using the Child Abuse Electronic Reporting System (CARES).
In an article by the Marshall Project, “Is Child Abuse Really Rising During The Pandemic,” family advocates, child welfare experts, and state agency officials say the reports are premature.
Emma Ketteringham, managing director of the family defense practice in New York City explained why the news may lag behind the facts in the article.
“We have a child welfare system that is particularly, extremely sensitive to the media, so we should be very sure of narratives before we put them out there,” Ketteringham said.
The confusing surrounding the increase of child abuse during the pandemic may have been misconstrued with domestic violence, which is on the rise. It may have not been clearly stated during media reports, and the public did not differentiate the two.
Roger Remmen is the president of Richstone Family Center, a philanthropy dedicated to preventing child abuse in California. He said this year’s statistics do not represent a decline in violence.
“The fact is, domestic violence has increased at Richstone, and we’re seeing an increase big time,” Remmen said. “Without complete access to children, accurate information is not possible at this time.”
Remmen said his organization has seen a 20% rise in the number of people his centers service for domestic violence.
As you can see, in the same sentence Mr. Remmen referred to domestic violence increasing, although his agency cannot confirm the rise in child abuse.
Typically Spring and summer months have a low call volume of reports of child abuse and neglect for DCFS.
Suarez said, “At the onset of the pandemic, there was a sharp decline in calls to our Child Protection Hotline, by as much as 50 % compared to out pre-pandemic numbers.”
An NBC News analysis of data from 43 states found child abuse declining since March, during the pandemic, when children came home from school.
No data has been reported on child abuse during the pandemic by the Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau.
The impact of the pandemic increased the vulnerability of families as they collectively face new stressors, including physical health risks, school and business closures, family isolation, and economic instability.
All of these stressors occur in the context of uncertainty, causing children stress in coping with unfamiliar routines, the Children’s Bureau Express said in a statement.
NBC analyst Julia Ingram reported child abuse around the nation plunged during the pandemic on July 26.
Although teachers see students virtually, screens do not give a clear view of what happens to a student.
Ingram wrote, NBC news analyzed 42 states and the District of Columbia, and found a decrease by 40.6 % in child abuse since the same time last year. NBC concluded the statistics are not attainable, and the rise in child abuse is unknown.
Currently, the United States has not had the opportunity to compile data that is representative of increases in child abuse and neglect.
In other countries like the United Kingdom, domestic child abuse rose to 1493%, ScienceDaily reported on July 2.
Traumatic head injuries in ages 17 days old to 13 months, rose from March 3 through March 23, the article said.
“There is a very real danger that under lockdown, children are falling through the safety net,” said U.K. protection officer Chris Steele. “Because of reduced access to support services and fewer opportunities for people outside the family to sound the alarm.”
In spite of the limited data that has been compiled, grave concerns about child abuse have taken center stage in the Coronavirus pandemic. Without mandated reporters, school counselors, and psychologists, one cannot really know what the total of child abuse is currently.
As efforts to find new ways to identify child abuse and child neglect, continuous agencies such as Stand for Children’s Home Visit Project, Healthy Families America and Education Drive, and many others are networking to make remote learning at home as safe as possible for children.