State sees decrease in reported child abuse

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By Aniela Russo

California has experienced a drop in reported cases of child abuse in the foster care system since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. 

Children are not in school, so most mandated reporters such as police, teachers, counselors, doctors and nurses are unable to make reports or observe physical or psychological changes.

“A substantial amount of cases go unreported in a normal situation, or we get half a story,” said John Canto, supervising investigator for the State of California. “Most reported cases come from a teacher, a school counselor, or a therapist. During this COVID-19 crisis, child abuse cases are going unreported. Children sometimes open up at older ages and report things that happened to them years ago in foster care.”

According to EdSource, teachers report more cases of child abuse than any other group in California. The Child Welfare League of America reported that, of all mandated reporters of abuse, teachers report 20% of cases. Police and attorneys report 18% of cases.

Between the months of April and August this year reports of child abuse in the state decreased 28% from the same months in 2019, according to the California Department of Social Services. EdSource reported that between those months in 2020, counties in the state received 121,298 calls of suspected child abuse. In 2019, counties received 167,740 calls during those months.

But recent numbers from the Child Welfare League of America indicated that although reported cases have decreased this year, national child abuse reports were actually on the rise in recent years. 

According to a study entitled Child Maltreatment 2018, the number of children in the country who received child protective services increased 8.4% from 2014 to 2018. The number of victims also increased by 0.4% during that time. The 2018 numbers indicated 10.7% of cases involved physical abuse, 7% involved sexual abuse and 60.8% involved neglect.

An estimated 1,770 children died of abuse and neglect at a rate of 2.39 per 100,000 children in 2018, according to the study. It also reports that children under the age of one are abused at the highest rate. 

Salina Telles, Riverside County state investigator, examines severe cases of neglect.

“There are resources such as wrap-around programs and alternative resources,” Telles said.

Kim Taylor, Riverside County Department of Public Social Services Investigation Department regional manager, did not respond to request for comment.

On April 13, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $42 million pledge to protect foster youth and families impacted by the pandemic. According to a press release from the governor’s office, $27 million went to help keep families together, $14 million went to aid social workers, $3 million went to resource centers and the remaining amount went to support helplines and other miscellaneous expenses.

“Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, stable and nurturing environment free from fear, abuse, and neglect,” Newsom said in the press release April 13. “Our foster youth and the families who care for them need our support to get through this difficult time. We are ramping up funding on initiatives that keep families together and support the social workers who provide critical services to help families thrive.”

Newsom also declared the month of April Child Abuse Prevention Month in California.

Social workers and agencies continue to conduct home visits and video calls to comply with legal guidelines.  

Riverside County recognizes the positive contributions of the majority of foster parents despite these challenges.

Call the Riverside County Children’s Services Division Hotline at 800-442-4918 or the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-442-4453 to report child abuse.

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