Apr 19, 2020 - Health

"Suffering in silence": Worries mount over drop in reported child abuse cases

In Spokane, Elementary School teachers use plastic cups to build a "We Miss You All-Stars" message.
In Spokane, Washington, Adams Elementary School third-grade teachers used plastic cups to build a message to their students. Photo: Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review via AP

Child welfare agencies have lost some of their best "eyes and ears" for reporting abuse and neglect as a result of school closures, AP reports.

Why it matters: April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Across the country, states are reporting fewer calls to child abuse hotlines, which officials believe is a sign that many cases are going unreported.

By the numbers: Washington state’s child abuse hotline witnessed a 50% drop in calls, while Montana, Oklahoma and Louisiana are reporting about a 45% reduction.

  • Arizona’s calls are down one-third compared with previous weeks, and Nevada has seen a 14% drop compared to March 2019.

What they're saying: "That means many children are suffering in silence," Darren DaRonco, spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Child Safety, told AP.

  • “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.
  • Jill Cook, assistant director of the American School Counselor Association in Virginia, said calls to domestic violence hotlines are rising, which indicates that some children may be in unsafe homes.

The big picture: The coronavirus pandemic has upended millions of Americans' routines and inflamed stresses that contribute to child abuse.

  • Marti Vining, Montana’s Child and Family Services administrator, said overwhelmed families should call their state hotlines for help with public assistance, possible child care and a plan to help reduce stress.

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