OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As more Oklahomans stay inside to slow the spread of COVID-19, child advocacy exerts say the self-quarantine could have a negative effect on a vulnerable population.
The CARE Center says incidents of child abuse are likely to go up while reporting of the incidents will likely decrease during the pandemic.
“We have long called out child abuse as an epidemic, but the coronavirus pandemic will exasperate that crisis,” said CARE Center CEO Stacy McNeiland. “Educators are major advocates for children, and a large percentage of reports of child abuse are originated by a teacher, school counselor or administrator. Now that kids aren’t physically in school, there’s a greater likelihood that abuse will go unreported. Kids’ lives are at risk.”
According to a report from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, more than 1,300 reports resulting in a substantiated case of child abuse came from a school during the 2017 fiscal year.
The report lists schools as the fourth most common source of child abuse reports, behind law enforcement, child welfare workers and relatives.
“It’s more important than ever for relatives to speak up if they suspect child abuse,” McNeiland said. “Teachers are on the front lines in the fight against child abuse, and with empty classrooms, they just don’t have the ability as they normally would to spot the signs of abuse. If you are a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, uncle, cousin, related by blood or not, we’re asking you to speak up for the children you come into contact with. If you see something, say something. You could save a life.”
Signs of child abuse include: changes in behavior, including aggression and hostility; withdrawal from friends or activity; self-harm; running away; and, physical signs such as bruising.
Anyone who suspects abuse is urged to call 1-800-522-3511 immediately. A report may be made confidentially. Concerned Oklahomans should call 911 if a child is in imminent danger.
“In times of stress, let alone a pandemic, child abuse and neglect become increased concerns for our agency,” said Dr. Deborah Shropshire, OKDHS Director of Child Welfare Services. “Isolation and the stress of children being home all the time could increase the risk for child maltreatment, and children being out of school naturally reduces the number of eyes watching over them. Though we’ve seen a drop in total call volume to our Statewide Hotline, the calls we have received are mostly meeting a higher priority criteria, indicating a need to quickly investigate the child’s safety. We are asking the community to check-in with those around them to offer help. If we all watch out for each other, we can protect our neighbors.”