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Child abuse, neglect reports decline statewide during pandemic

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    TULSA, Oklahoma (Tulsa World) — A decline in the number of child abuse and neglect reports is usually seen as a reason to celebrate.

But in the upside down world of COVID-19, state and local social service agencies worry that darker forces may have been at work to cause a decline in child abuse/neglect cases.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the number of child abuse and neglect cases reported in the U.S. declined by more than 400,000 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Oklahoma, the number of child neglect and abuse cases declined by 15.7% when comparing the period between March through November 2019 to the same period in 2020, according to the AP data, obtained from the state Department of Human Services.

Put another way, the number of neglect/abuse cases reported to DHS declined by nearly 10,000, or from 62,462 to 52,638, during the nine month period of 2019 to 2020, according to the AP.

The months of April and May during 2020 saw the largest declines in reported cases compared to the same months in 2019, or 43% and 27% respectively.

State officials attribute the decline in reported abuse and neglect cases to a gap in the reporting system that developed when schools and day care facilities closed and fewer went to the doctor for routine visits at the onset of COVID-19.

Annette Jacobi, director of the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, said teachers, day care providers and health care providers are good reporters of child neglect.

“So they weren’t in school, they weren’t in day care and they may or may not get to all of their medical appointments because we were all kind of trying to hole up in our house and stay away,” Jacobi said, recalling the early months of the pandemic. “And that’s one of the reasons we do believe that those numbers went down.”

Meanwhile, calls to the state’s Child Abuse Hotline declined by over 50% in spring 2020, leading one official there to sound the alarm to warn the public.

“The Child Abuse Network has been extremely concerned as ‘shelter-in-place’ orders were enacted and children at risk lost a connection to caring adults outside the home who could report suspected abuse,” said Child Abuse Network President and CEO Maura Guten, in a written statement. “Instead of being ‘safer at home,’ helpless children were trapped in an unsafe environment aggravated by the stress and economic instability inflicted by the pandemic. All indicators show the pandemic has led to a child abuse epidemic.”

In addition to an increase in the number of cases reported, DHS also saw the percentage of cases accepted for further investigation increase during the beginning of the pandemic.

More than half of the reported child abuse and neglect cases were accepted during the months of April through July in 2020.

For comparison, in April 2019, less than 44% of cases filed were referred for additional investigation.

Jacobi said there continues to be a gap between the poor and the resources needed to serve them.

“We have a lot of families who know how to parent and would be a better parent if they just had the resources,” Jacobi said, referring to child care, safe housing and healthy food as examples.

The local nonprofit community ask residents to wear blue on Thursday to bring attention to abuse and neglect as National Child Abuse Prevention Month kicks off in April.

Local social service agencies also urge the public to visit for resources to help recognize, report and prevent child abuse and neglect, especially during the pandemic.

Persons who suspect a child is being abused or neglected can report it by calling the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-522-3511.

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Article Topic Follows: National-World

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