The Investigators: Calls into child abuse hotlines drop during pandemic

Why that’s not a good sign

Fewer child abuse cases reported in the Mid-South during pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Calls into child abuse hotlines have gone down during the pandemic. Childcare workers say that’s not a good thing.

While classes are canceled across the Mid-South, child abuse is more likely to be spotted at school than anywhere else.

“We have a decrease in what we call ‘community visibility’ for children,” said DeShawn Harris, Child Protection Services Director for Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services. “This is where there’s limited contact and limited time where children are being seen by schools.”

There were 1,231 fewer calls into Tennessee’s Child Abuse hotline from March 1-25, 2020 compared to March 1-25, 2019.

The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services reports that it has seen its reports decline significantly since quarantines and school closures began.

The Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services says anecdotally, it has seen a decrease as well.

“School officials (teachers, principals, counselors, coaches) do have frequent contact with students and will report suspected neglect or abuse from their daily contact with students,” said Marci Manley, Arkansas DCFS spokesperson.

Meanwhile, the potential for abuse could be greater during this period of self-isolation.

“Families being in such close quarters coupled with these tough economic times, their parents will become frustrated and things may get out of hand,” Harris told The Investigators.

Childcare agencies in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee are doing fewer in-person meetings, opting instead for video conference.

Each agency said employees will still make contact if a threat is detected.

“For children who we receive new child abuse reports on, we continue to make face-to-face to ensure the safety of these children,” said Harris.

“We are also continuing our family visits and in-home child visits whenever safely possible to do so,” said Lea Anne Brandon, Communications Director for the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services.

The Investigators asked each agency how they are ensuring the safety of their employees.

Each responded saying prior to entering a family’s home, workers will ask health-related questions to avoid exposure to COVID-19. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is also available.

The agencies also continue to ask for the public’s help.

The Tennessee Child Abuse Hotline can be reached at 877-237-0004 or online at the following link.

The Arkansas Child Maltreatment Hotline can be reached at 1-800-482-5964.

The Mississippi Abuse Hotline can be reached at 1-800-222-8000 or you can make a report at the following link.

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