Reports of child abuse drop, and that's worrying experts

At a home in Punta Gorda, deputies found a young girl covered in bug bites and a rash while wearing a diaper overflowing with urine.

The filthy home reeked of feces, moldy food and cigarette butts. Facing the girl’s booster seat was a table covered in white powder from drugs, according to records from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies stumbled upon the situation June 13 because they were searching for the girl’s mother, who had a warrant for her arrest. Both parents were arrested for child neglect, along with other charges.

If deputies hadn’t been sent to the house in search of the mother, the child might still be in a house where the adults were allegedly using meth.

Experts say that many neglect or abuse cases are going undiscovered right now.

With schools, childcare facilities and camps closed due to COVID-19, reports of child abuse in Charlotte County have plummeted. In April, the number of reports of child abuse to the Department of Children and Families in Charlotte County was at the lowest it’s been in about nine years.

But that doesn’t mean fewer children are being abused.

When Florida schools shut down in mid-March, kids stopped seeing their teachers — who are trained to look for and report signs of child abuse.

“Quite a few reports come from professionals at schools mostly because they’re trained in what to look for, and kids spend a lot of time at school,” said Nathan Scott, child welfare policy coordinator with the Family Safety Alliance. “During COVID-19, they haven’t been at school, so that’s been a contributing factor (in the decline in reports).”

People who are required by law to report child abuse include professionals such as educators, health professionals and social workers — anyone who has contact with the child as part of his or her job.

The vast majority of reports come from these mandated reporters — especially teachers, who produced 21% of the 4.3 million referrals made in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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