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Child abuse in a pandemic: Case numbers don’t tell the whole story

Published: Aug. 25, 2020 at 6:26 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Child abuse cases continue to rise across the country and here at home. Experts say that rise is directly related to the pandemic.

“When COVID-19 and the pandemic started back in March, there was a sharp decline in the number of cases,” said Susan Neeham, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Aiken.

First, there was a drop, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Still Waters is a family counseling center in Augusta. They've seen a decrease in the number of child abuse cases. They say that's only because children weren't around people to report abuse, like teachers at school.

“Due to the lack of resources, the parents have been stressed and they’re stressed with their children at home without things to do,” Still Waters Counseling CEO Leanne Jean said.

The Child Advocacy Center of Aiken conducts interviews with children in abuse investigations. In May, they conducted only nine interviews, but in July, they did 50.

For comparison, in July 2019, they only did 36 interviews.

“And that has more to do with the kids getting out, some kids going back to daycare, some kids in summer camps, some people just in the community recognizing and responding, which has been a good thing,” Neeham said.

They don't expect cases to decrease anytime soon.

“We anticipate a much greater influx of those because there’s been such a long period of time that the children have been out of sight, or have not been in contact with people that normally would make reports about child abuse or neglect,” Neeham said.

When schools open back up, more kids will be flagged by people required to report such as teachers. But the worry remains for kids learning virtually.

“The true effects of this pandemic have not really been seen by us because the isolation and the long-term effects that’s going to come as a result of it,” Jean said.

In addition, to more cases, they also say the cases have been more severe.

Information on how you can spot signs of abuse:

  • Still Waters says signs of abuse could include: Problems sleeping or oversleeping, thoughts of harming themselves, being easily startled or having panic attacks, changes in social behavior.
  • 76 percent of child abuse cases are conducted by the parent or guardian.
  • Neehan says parents should also be careful and thoroughly screen any new childcare providers they may be hiring to help due to Hybrid learning schedules. She advises parents to run a background check and get references. Also, have open conversations with children so they know what’s appropriate and what’s not.
  • Georgia Crisis & Access Line is 1-800-715-4225
  • Georgia COVID-19 Emotional Support Line is 866-399-8938
  • Still Waters After Hours Crisis Line is 706-699-1280.

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