As in-person learning resumes, advocates say reports of child abuse could increase

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Reports of child abuse and neglect coming to the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center have started increasing as in-person classes resume in some school districts. The center works with CPS, hospitals and law enforcement and receives about 28,000 reports of abuse each year.

When the pandemic led to more remote learning, DCAC says reports of child abuse and neglect dropped 43%, but Lana Ahrens, the center's director of training and education, says fewer reports did not mean fewer children were having problems.

"It's definitely become a more stressful time for everybody," she says. "Some parents might be out of work, and everybody is at home. Definitely during stressful times, that puts our kids at risk for abuse."

She says kids were not in school, so teachers were less likely to spot the signs of abuse and cases may not have been reported.

"They have built a rapport with their students, and their students trust them," Ahrens says. "If something is going on at home, students feel safe to tell their teacher about that."

The National Institutes of Health says teachers are the most likely to report signs of abuse or neglect. NIH says teachers account for about 20% of all reports.

Teachers are required to report cases where they suspect abuse might be occurring. Ahrens says educators may have more trouble recognizing the signs during a video conference.

"We encourage the teachers, pay attention to the surroundings," she says. "What are you hearing in the background? What are you seeing, physically, on the child? Is there a mark? Is there a bruise?"

Ahrens says kids may also turn cameras off or move them to hide signs of injuries. She says neighbors and other members of the community must now be willing to report signs of abuse or neglect. Those reports can remain confidential.

"We want you to get involved. You have to trust your gut. If you see something that doesn't look right or doesn't feel right, that is enough for you, as a community member, to make that call to Child Protective Services," she says. "We want everyone in the community to know how to make that call, how to recognize those signs of neglect."

DCAC is providing online training to spot signs of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The training is free at dcac.org.

People can use the discount code, SAVEJANE, for training on how to recognize and report abuse. The code, GETEDUCATED, can be used for training in keeping kids safe online.

Abuse can be reported at (800) 252-5400. Parents who need support can call the National Parent Helpline at (855) 427-2736.