The calls came from police or child protective services, sometimes 10 to 15 a week, most of them about sexual abuse. The children would sit across from her in a soundproof room at SafeSpot Children’s Advocacy Center in Fairfax, Va., as the forensic interviewer asked in a soft voice: “Has somebody done something to your body that they shouldn’t have?”
Lately, it’s gone quiet. Since the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close and families to stay home, the calls have slowed to two to five a week, with more of them involving children with injuries so visible — a broken arm, a beat-up face — an adult had to seek medical help.
“What keeps me up at night,” Haslett said, “is the children that we’re not seeing.”
Across the country, from California to Iowa to Massachusetts, child abuse reports have plummeted since the virus arrived. In the nation’s capital, hotline reports of abuse and neglect between mid-March and mid-April were 62 percent lower than in the same period last year, according to the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency. Reports to child protective services in Maryland have fallen just as far, and in Virginia, referrals from school staffers have dipped by 94 percent.
The cases surfacing often involve children so severely injured they end up in the emergency room and intensive care unit. In some hospitals, they are dying at an unusually high rate.
Pediatricians across the country are sounding the alarm: The stress of unemployment and financial insecurity has strained relationships between children and those who care for them. The closures of schools and day cares have forced children closer to adults who may not be safe.
In a world without school, doctors and advocates say, no one is there to watch, to speak up, until it’s too late.
The American system of catching child abuse relies on kids venturing outside their homes.
Year after year, most referrals to child protective services come from professionals — police officers, lawyers, doctors, anyone who comes into contact with a child as part of their job. But no group reports more than educators, who were responsible for 21 percent of the 4.3 million referrals made in 2018, according to federal data.
After 17 years in the classroom, one fifth-grade teacher in Northern Virginia said she’s learned exactly what to watch for: Students falling asleep inexplicably or stealing peers’ food at snack time. Prolonged absences from school paired with reasons that make little sense — out for a week, she was told once, because the student slid and fell. Promised doctor’s notes that never arrived.
She’s trying to stay in touch with her fifth-graders, holding video class and office hours, phoning and emailing. But the teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her students’ privacy, knows it’s not enough.
She worries about students she says are showing troubling signs — withdrawing, refusing to show themselves on video lessons. She worries especially about a student she has twice reported as a possible victim of abuse this year. Recently, she wrote that student a letter.
“Remember that no matter how crazy the world seems, you are not alone,” the teacher wrote. “Send me an email if you want or need to.”
She has not received a reply.
With fewer eyes on kids, child abuse reports plummet in Montgomery County
The teacher is not hopeful someone else will intervene. She knows that while professionals like her do the most reporting, families do much less: Roughly 16 percent of the abuse reports made in 2018 came from family and other people close to the victims.
That’s because family are usually the abusers. In 2018, nearly 80 percent of perpetrators were parents of the victim. That year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated 1,770 children died of abuse and neglect.
With the country locked down, the only people seeing children are the very people most likely to abuse them, said Jeanine Harper, executive director of Greater Richmond SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now).
“You’ve got stressed adults and vulnerable children and very few exits,” Harper said. “And you don’t have eyes on them.”
By Samantha Schmidt and Hannah Natanson from The Washington Post (Read full article here)