Those charged with protecting children in Massachusetts say they’re concerned by a significant decline in reports of alleged neglect and abuse during the COVID-19 crisis.
Since mid-March, the number of allegations received by the state Department of Children and Families has dropped in half.
Maria Mossaides is the Massachusetts Child Advocate. She said she’s not surprised that the start of the steep decline coincided with the closing of schools and day care centers.
She said teachers and child care workers are among those required to submit reports if they suspect a child is being harmed.
“There may be abuse and neglect going on but is not coming to our attention," she said.
Because of COVID-19, DCF caseworkers have reduced in-person visits with families and are now checking in with the majority via video.
Adriana Zwick heads the union that represents 3,500 DCF employees.
"We are not avoiding home visits with families," she said. "If there is a child at imminent risk of abuse or neglect, we have to get out there to intervene."
Zwick said she’s also concerned by the drop in abuse reports and called COVID-19 a perfect storm for those DCF works with.
"You have people that already feel sort of challenged parenting to begin with," she said. "Now they’re being asked to home school or they’re trying to find activities for these children at home. It builds up pressure in a household, and I’m concerned, and my members are concerned, for how children are experiencing that pressure."
Zwick said she expects there could be a surge in reports of abuse and neglect when children return to school. Until that happens, Child Advocate Maria Mossaides said she’s hoping the public can help fill the void.
“If they have serious concerns about children, then we really ask them to call the child-at-risk hotline, and let the professionals intervene and make sure that children are OK," she said.
That number is 800-792-5200.
This story is a production of New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New England Public Radio on May 12, 2020.
This segment aired on May 13, 2020.