LIMA — School closures and the prolonged isolation of last spring’s stay-at-home orders led to a decrease in child abuse and neglect reports. Parents and child advocates worried that youth were at risk of suffering from depression, suicidal thoughts, hunger or substance abuse.
The unintended consequences youth have experienced since the start of the coronavirus pandemic were the subject of a special Real American Sunrise presentation Friday, highlighting the ways youth services have adapted in the past year to ensure children are not forgotten.
“It’s fair to say that the decrease in calls to our agency meant simply less reporting of abuse, not less abuse,” said Sarah Newland, interim director of Allen County Children Services.
Ohio saw a 43% decline in abuse and neglect reports last April compared to the previous year, as children had little to no contact with adults outside their households while Ohio was still under a stay-at-home order.
Because kids weren’t in school and most activities were canceled, they weren’t interacting with teachers, daycare staff and nurses who are required to report suspected abuse or neglect cases to children’s services agencies.
There were creative efforts to address this challenge: Lima schools, for example, sent school resources officers to deliver books and supplies to students’ homes, and schools organized food distribution sites to ensure kids didn’t go hungry, Superintendent Jill Ackerman said on Friday.
Parents were under increasing stress too, assuming the role of teacher and coach, often while working from home or suffering from social isolation and job losses that, at times, fueled substance abuse and put children at risk.
Mandatory reporting picked up sharply in June and August, coinciding with the end of Ohio’s stay-at-home order and reopening of local schools. By the end of 2020, Newland said the agency had investigated more than 850 child abuse and neglect reports, slightly below 2019 levels.
Still, some parents opted to keep their students at home when the school year resumed.
Ackerman said nearly 25% of Lima schools students were enrolled in online classes at the start of the school year last August, which has since fallen to around 5%.
“Once parents understood that we were not superspreaders,” Ackerman said, “they began to get more comfortable in allowing their kids to come back.”