A 60% decrease in reports of child abuse and neglect is worrying Howard County, Maryland officials, fearful that the problem is being underreported because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
”Throughout this pandemic, we have seen the cracks and ruptures in our society exacerbated,” said County Executive Calvin Ball, in a news conference in Ellicott City on Tuesday.
Ball, joined by child protective services and law enforcement officials, said the reduction in reports is unlikely to be driven by an actual decrease in abuse or neglect incidents.
”Child abuse is most frequently referred from our school systems, but with most students learning online, it can be more difficult for teachers and staff to identify abuse,” Ball said.
With children learning and receiving services virtually, reporting sources don’t have the same access to children, and may not be easily able to see signs of physical and mental abuse.
“During this pandemic, children are spending more time at home,” said Stephen Liggett-Creel, director of the county’s Department of Social Services.
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Police Chief Lisa Myers said public health guidance suggests people stay at home, to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.
“If you’re a child in an abusive environment, staying home may not be safe at all,” Myers said.
The primary concern of the agency is to ensure a child’s safety and well-being, but whenever possible, the goal is to keep families together. Myers encouraged parents reach out for resources and support if they need them.
Howard County State’s Attorney Rich Gibson said the COVID-19 pandemic has created “a perfect storm,” that has led to a decrease in reports.
”We are troubled to see these lower numbers, if they, in fact, equate to under-reporting as opposed to less abuse,” said Gibson, encouraging young people to talk to a trusted family member, friend’s parent, or neighbor.
“Confiding in that adult may be a child’s best opportunity to end the abuse,” Gibson said.