WALB Investigates: Child abuse, neglect reports declined during COVID-19 pandemic, Ga. DFCS says

Updated: Jul. 28, 2020 at 5:39 PM EDT
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - As parents and guardians decide whether to send their children back to school in-person or virtually, some advocates are concerned about the implications of students not getting the opportunity for in-person learning.

State leaders said reports of child abuse and neglect dropped drastically when schools closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most students have been physically out of school since March.

The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) said it gets around 140,000 abuse and neglect calls a year.

DFCS Director Tom Rawlings said not all of those reports turn out to be true, but the reports drop by about 50 percent each year when school lets out for summer.

This year, though, the state saw the same drop two months earlier, when schools closed because of COVID-19.

Some advocates said that’s because teachers and school staff see the signs of abuse or neglect early, and they’re legally required to report it.

This raises some concerns about the welfare of students who haven't been seen by teachers in several months.

“We have some wonderful teachers out there who have gone out of their way to check on children to make sure that, that when they see the situation that does not look right, that they’re calling us,” Rawlings said.

He said DFCS posted tips for teachers about how they can try to protect their students from abuse and neglect, even virtually.

In 2019, Georgia changed a home study law in hopes of catching more cases of abuse in students who are withdrawn from public schools.

According to the Children’s Bureau with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, some signs of physical abuse include unexplained injuries, seeming scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or aggressive and seeming frightened of his or her parents.

To read more about how to prevent child abuse or spot signs of child abuse, click here.

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