More severe child abuse reported after drop in Missouri hotline calls during pandemic

Missouri

WENTZVILLE, Mo. – The number of people calling Missouri’s child abuse and neglect hotline declined 40 percent in April and 54 percent in May, when comparing it to April and May 2019.

“It was a nightmare the idea that a child would be unsafe and no one would be there to report it,” Missouri Kids First Director of Public Policy Jessica Seitz said. “The reason that the hotline calls were down is not because abuse wasn’t happening, it was because it wasn’t reported.”

The Child Center in Wentzville is a child advocacy center that conducts forensic interviews, offers therapy, and prevention services to name a few. There are 15 centers across Missouri. Wentzville’s location serves 4 counties: St. Charles, Lincoln, Warren, and Montgomery.

The Child Center is 24/7 for emergency cases as well. They serve as a location where kids are interviewed about any abuse they experienced, instead of going into a police station, which can be more alarming for children. The center remains in close contact with the children through any potential court cases and also offers therapy.

The Child Center also saw a decline in cases in mid-March.

“We did see about a 30 percent decrease in cases coming in but one of the things we saw was they were some of the most disturbing and horrific cases that we had ever seen, so I believe as a result of parents feeling more stressed, of kids being left home alone longer, and that the abuse had just become much more severe,” said Sissy Swift, The Child Center’s executive director.

Hotline calls are known to decline when school is out, such as summer or winter breaks because teachers–mandated reporters–don’t see their students as often. During COVID and months of isolation, that decline went to a new level.

“It’s sad, it’s scary; I hate to think about what might happen if we don’t get ahold of this COVID and schools have to close again,” Swift said.

“What’s happening right now in our communities is high stress, people have financial stress, familial stress, all of that are all risk factors for child abuse,” Seitz said.

In April, Missouri Kids First, which is a state-level organization, started a campaign that all adults are #Essential4Kids in reporting abuse.

In October so far, the hotline calls are back up to where they were in October 2019.

“I’m relieved that the hotline calls are back up, but I am very concerned about what I’m hearing about the cases that are being seen right now, because I do think the pandemic has also led to a spike in child abuse,” Setiz said.

The Child Center in Wentzville is seeing a spike in cases because as kids head back to school, more people are interacting with the children. Swift said during a virtual abuse training in a virtual classroom, one student wrote in the chat that she had been experiencing abuse.

The center typically does 50 to 60 interviews in a month, but they have already surpassed 50 before mid-October.

Anyone with suspicions that a child is being abused or neglected is urged to contact the state’s child abuse hotline:

All calls, except from mandated reporters, can be anonymous.

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