Vigilance urged in reporting child abuse during COVID-19

    STATE -- Ombudsman Kristie Hirschman is calling upon the public to stay on guard against child abuse, citing numbers from the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) that abuse allegations have fallen sharply since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted leaders to close schools.
    Child-abuse reports to DHS fell from 5,033 in February to 4,209 in March, a drop of more than 16 percent.  Most schools in Iowa closed in mid-March.  This March’s numbers were also well below those of March 2019, when 4,813 reports were made.  States all across the country are reporting even sharper decreases in April.  Thus far in Iowa this April, less than half as many child-abuse reports were made when compared to the same period in 2019.
    Child advocates believe the lower numbers are due to the abrupt break in relations between students and mandatory reporters such as teachers, school nurses and daycare workers.
    In other words, it is unlikely that physical and psychological mistreatment of children is disappearing; instead, it is believed that some child abuse is simply going unnoticed.  Advocates fear that social distancing, recommended by communicable disease experts for legitimate health reasons, could make detection of child abuse even more difficult.
    “Please do not let social distancing be an excuse to engage in social isolation,” Hirschman urged.  “Each and every one of us needs to be vigilant and supportive of our neighbors, friends and families.  We owe that to Iowa’s children.”
    The Ombudsman’s recent public report on the starvation death of 16-year-old Natalie Finn and its pending report on the death of 16-year-old Sabrina Ray highlight the importance of a watchful community to keep kids safe, Hirschman said.  DHS and the Ombudsman encourage anyone who believes a child is in immediate danger to call 911.  People who suspect child abuse or dependent adult abuse can call DHS’ abuse hotline 24 hours a day at (800) 362-2178.
    April was also National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  Hirschman recently joined 10 children’s ombudsmen from around the United States in a statement asking for the public’s help to safeguard children and to keep parents positively engaged during the COVID-19 crisis.

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