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‘See something, say something’: COVID-19 pandemic changes child abuse reporting for Columbia Public Schools

Columbia Public Schools
KMIZ
Columbia Public Schools.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The Columbia Public School District is set to begin virtual classes on Tuesday, but not all students are safe at home. 

Missouri Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said in a news release that there is typically an increase in reports to the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline when educators are back together with students after the summer break. 

But Vandeven said child abuse and neglect reports have declined significantly during the pandemic because interactions between teachers and students have become limited. 

Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline Unit Manager, Casey Gilmore, said the hotline experienced a 50% drop in calls starting in March due to the pandemic.

"That drop in hotline calls really reinforces the importance of our partnership with schools, whether it be in distance learning or in a traditional school setting," Gilmore said.

She said on average the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline receives over 142,000 calls per year.

“School personnel are one of our top reporters because they are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect," Gilmore said. "With that being said we do encourage anyone mandated or not to report any concerns or child abuse or neglect to us.”

Educators, counselors, bus drivers and nutrition staff are mandated reporters and if they see or suspect child abuse they are required to report it. 

The departments of social services and elementary and secondary education and the Missouri School Boards’ Association created a video to increase awareness of the importance of reporting child abuse and neglect. 

The seven-minute video highlights tips, resources and Missouri’s online reporting option. The online option allows educators to quickly report information with the Missouri Department of Social Services Children’s Division. 

Missouri Department of Social Services and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education video about the importance of reporting child abuse and neglect as the school year begins.

CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said that CPS educators will carry out their responsibilities as mandated reporters regardless of if they see students in-person or via a video link. 

“We also have wonderful counseling and outreach professionals and resources in place to support our students and families,” Baumstark said. 

The CPS School Counseling Program has additional resources, services and information on contacting school counselors. 

The Missouri Department of Social Services says reporting child abuse is everyone’s responsibility and that anonymous reports are accepted from people who are not mandated by their jobs to report abuse. 

“We are continuing to encourage anyone who sees or suspects abuse or neglect to please call the hotline and report it,” Baumstark said.

Ways to report child abuse and neglect

  • Missouri’s Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-800-392-3738
  • Boone County Children’s Division Office: 573-441-5952
  • Nationwide Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 800-422-4453

Riane Cleveland

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