SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. On Wednesday during his coronavirus update briefing, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee called child abuse and neglect a collateral side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For weeks, schools have been empty with classes switched to online learning to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, with no end in sight, child advocates worry about the decrease of child abuse cases being reported since teachers are an essential part of the reporting process.
“When this pandemic is lifted and children go back to school, we’ll see a large influx of reports of child abuse, because it’s typically when children are home for Christmas or out of school, we’ll generally not see as many cases of abuse,” said Gena Frye, Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Sullivan County.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services reports that there was nearly a 19 percent decline in the number of calls handled by the Child Abuse Hotline in March 2020 compared to March 2019.
“This is kind of such a new thing for all of us because it’s never happened before, so children will have signs of, you know, if somebody is abusing them they can be withdrawn,” Frye told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais. “When they’re cooped up in having to stay home and not being in their regular situation, it may be hard to be able to tell.”
Frye said that there are an array of signs children might display when they are being abused or neglected, but sometimes they won’t show any.
“Tennessee is a mandatory state for child abuse reporting, so if anyone suspects that a child is being abused, that could be a neighbor, that could be a relative, then they are required by law to make that report,” Frye told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.
Tennessee state law does mandate that anyone with knowledge of a case of child abuse is required to reported it either by phone or online.
“I want to remind everyone, each of us are mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse. We encourage neighbors and friends and family and parents to be vigilant during this time of seclusion and social distancing to call the child abuse hotline if they suspect any incident of child abuse or neglect,” Gov. Lee said. “DCS hotline staff continue to follow the same protocols to ensure that all reports of child abuse and neglect are screened and investigated. Child Protective Service investigators are still going out to make face-to-face visits to make sure that our children are safe across this state.”
Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Andy Seabolt told News Channel 11 that for the month of February, there were 27 reports of child abuse, child sex abuse, and child neglect that were investigated.
In March, there were 28 reports of child abuse, child sex abuse, and child neglect that were investigated, according to Seabolt.
Call the Child Abuse Hotline 1-877-237-0004 if you suspect an incident of child abuse or neglect. Reports can also be made online at tn.gov/dcs or by using the MyTN app.
You can also visit the Children’s Advocacy Center of Sullivan County’s website for more information.
Click here for more coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.