With schools closed and all organized children’s activities temporarily shut down, Florida child advocates fear COVID-19 is posing new dangers to kids in need.
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According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, the number of calls regarding concerns of child abuse is down more than 11% from January and February.
“It’s very worrisome when schools are closed or when after school programs and sports events children are involved in are not available for them,” said Cindy Vallely, Executive Director of Florida’s Network of Children Advocacy Centers. “When children don’t have that safety net, when they don’t have that school to go to, they don’t have that after school program to attend no-one has eyes on them other than the families and, unfortunately, a lot of the abuse takes place in the family.”
The vast majority of those who report suspected cases of abuse are from outside the home.
According to a 2017 U.S. Health and Human Services report on child abuse, the majority of reports about suspected cases of child abuse are reported by professionals who are considered mandatory reporters. These include police officers, social services employees and teachers.
In fact, teachers, along with other people who work in the education field, make up nearly 20% of child abuse reporters, according to the government. As a result, the longer children remain out of school, the more experts worry about unintended consequences.
“For some children, this could be the worst thing,” said Vallely.
Vallely said all 27 chapters that makeup Florida’s Network of Children Advocacy Centers are still servicing children and their families but using other ways to communicate with them. In some cases, children are still meeting with program employees, and in other cases, child protective teams are reaching out using secured networks. Vallely said teams are also utilizing telemental health opportunities where doctors and therapists are treating kids over the phone or online.
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Still, she’s concerned the longer children remain out of sight and under the radar, the number of abuse calls will, likely, continue to drop.
“We don’t really know when this thing is going to end. It’s concerning, yes, very scary," she said.
Child advocates' advice to neighbors is to stay observant of their own neighborhood and on their own street.
If you are concerned a child may be the victim of abuse, you can call the state’s hotline at 1-800-962-2873.
More information can be found here: https://www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/abuse-hotline/