By Angelia Coyne
Caseworkers Have Less Access to Students During COVID-19. Lower numbers of reported incidents could be cause for concern.
(HOLLYWOOD., Calif) — Allegations of child abuse appear to be 50 percent lower over the last five to six months, according to data from the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
The coronavirus pandemic has interfered with teachers’ ability to detect child abuse when children arrive in their classrooms. The DCFS no longer has the same oversight as when children were in school. COVID-19 has hindered the system protections and safeguards that were common when dealing with child abuse and neglect.
According to DCFS officials, mandated reporters such as teachers, healthcare providers, counselors and educational psychologists are no longer able to monitor children during remote learning.
Underage children who cannot defend themselves from sexual predators and familial abuse are currently in uncharted territory. Now, children need someone to be their voice and to protect them from possible abuse during distance learning.
Before COVID-19, the YMCA’s after-school programs and the Boys and Girls Clubs were buffers and safe havens for children who are abused at home. Enrollment in those programs has been extremely restricted or temporarily closed in compliance with state safety precautions and guidelines in response to the pandemic.
It has forced some children to be shut-in with their abuser for longer periods of time with no way to escape.
Camille Cooper who is the vice president of public policy for RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, says sexual abuse has risen among children under age 18. While half of the victims are minors, 67 percent are abused by a family member she said.
“A lot of the kids that were coming to the hotline were feeling pretty vulnerable and traumatized,” Cooper said. “And it was a direct result of COVID-19, because they were quarantined with their abuser. The abuser was now abusing them on a daily basis.”
Cooper said her organization has partnered with Congress on a high-tech solution to keep children safe.
“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,” Cooper said.
Earlier this year, the California Department of Education sponsored a webinar titled “Safeguarding Children Through Distance Learning” in partnership with the California Department of Social Services, California State PTA and the California Teachers Association.
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 COVID-19.
Participants at the webinar discussed how the Los Angeles Unified School District is providing resources to teachers and educators to help support parents, families and caregivers.
Among the resources available to parents are school mental health clinics and school sites that provide virtual parenting classes and services, LAUSD officials told the Collegian in a recent email.
Through these efforts LAUSD is making an attempt to address the social, emotional and mental health needs of families during the pandemic.
The Los Angeles County 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 to enhance the child safety net for homebound families,” said Amara Suarez, DCFS’ Public Affairs representative. “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.”
Roger Remmen is the president of Richstone Family Center, a non-profit dedicated to preventing child abuse in California.
‘This year’s statistics do not represent a decline in violence. The fact is, domestic violence has increased at Richstone,” Remmen said. “And we’re seeing an increase big time. Without complete access to children, accurate information is not possible at this time.”
Remmen says his organization has seen a 20 percent rise in the number of people the centers support in cases of domestic violence.
Angela Ponivas works in Sacramento for the California Department of Social Services. She is the Bureau Chief of the Office of Child Abuse Prevention.
“California counties are reporting atypical reductions in the number of child protection services referrals to be around 50 percent,” Ponivas said. “At the same time, we really have to understand that risks increase, stress often leads to greater opportunity for abuse and neglect.”
Collaborative efforts are being made by child safety agencies in L.A. County. They work together to create a point of intervention for prevention of child abuse and neglect for children and their families.
DCFS has been working closely with LAUSD to develop new ways to inform families in the community about preventive measures for child abuse. L.A. County extended the outreach efforts to 10 million residents.
Typically, spring and summer months have a low call volume of reports of child abuse and neglect, according to DCFS statistics.
“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 Suarez. “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.”