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Child Abuse Calls Nearing Pre-Pandemic Levels As Schools Restart

Now that some schools have restarted in-person classes, after shifting to online learning in March, calls to child and family services are increasing.

Whenever students return from summer break, social workers expect to see increased reports of possible child abuse. And this year some counties are approaching pre-pandemic levels already.

In Portage County, the number of new cases opened by the jobs and family services office dropped from 24 in one week (Feb. 24-28) before the stay at home order, to six (April 6-10) at the height of the pandemic.

In the first week of September, the number was back up to 22.

“Absolutely abuse and neglect didn’t stop during this time,” said Kellijo Jeffries, the head of Portage County’s Job and Family Services office. “It’s just, unfortunately, we didn’t have the reports coming in to be able to identify for us kids that were at risk. We’re happy the calls are coming back in. We’re happy to be able to be checking on these kids.”

Jeffries said there’s no way to replace school staff reporting possible abuse and neglect. Most years, she added, the biggest increase after summer break comes in October.

“Our teachers and our guidance are one of our largest providers that contact the hotline when they have concerns about kids,” said Jeffries.

In Cuyahoga County, the number of referrals for suspected child abuse or neglect coming into the Department of Children and Family Services dropped well below normal in March. It’s also when the state’s stay-at-home order was issued.

In 2016-2019, there were on average 1,283 referrals coming into the office. In March 2020, there were 1,080. The fall-off continued the next month when there were 767 referrals compared to, on average, 1,359 in the four previous years.

But referrals started climbing in May, to 829. In two of the four previous years, referrals dropped when summer break starts.

While the overall number of new cases in March through August of this year has been lower each month than in each of the four previous years, the divide has narrowed considerably since April. In August, the total number was only about 100 less than in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

Cuyahoga County did not respond to questions about why the decrease in calls reversed during the summer this year.

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