As calls to child protective services drop, it’s urgent for the public to be more aware

While many D.C.-area residents work from home, one local expert is calling on the public to be aware, as the number of calls to Child Protective Services hotlines has dipped in the last month. And that could mean that children’s safety issues are not being reported.

Social distancing means teachers, coaches and friends aren’t keeping track of kids like they usually might, meaning the general public should take notice and be concerned about children’s safety.

“Don’t be hesitant,” said Allison Lowry, the program manager of child abuse and neglect prevention services for Fairfax County, Virginia. “Keep your eyes and ears on kids in your neighborhoods and kids in your families.

Look out for signs of depression or anxiety … ask them: ‘What’s going on? How are things going at home?,'” Lowry said.

For anyone who’s concerned, Lowry suggests doing an internet search for your local Child Protective Services hotline number.

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Emphasizing that the call doesn’t equate to filing a report and that anyone can choose to remain anonymous, Lowry said a phone call doesn’t mean callers are “telling on” someone. Plus, a call does not mean that Child Protective Services will certainly visit a home.

“It’s really to help you understand how you can help support that family, perhaps,” Lowry said. “You can say, ‘Hey what should I do in this situation?’ And a social worker will be able to talk you through that” and provide resources you can forward to the family.

The dramatic drop off in calls to the hotline since social distancing guidance was issued reveals how important community diligence may be now to help children stay safe, Lowry said.

In the first week of March, there were 438 calls. Last week, 61 were made.

“When I saw that data, I was really shocked at what that says about kids being isolated and not having access to the people who do make these calls,” Lowry said.

Another way you can help is by being “that safe adult” in a child’s life, meaning establishing a relationship as a mentor and providing support and encouragement to children and parents, Lowry said.

“You may ask them what’s going on, and they may not tell you. But if you ask them enough, they know you care, and they might eventually tell you,” she said.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you have questions or concerns about a child’s safety, here are some local Child Protective Services hotline numbers:

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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