Missouri sees "concerning" drop in child abuse reports during coronavirus outbreak

Published: Mar. 29, 2020 at 9:38 PM CDT
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Missouri schools are closed in an attempt to keep students safe from the coronavirus. Now state officials are wondering, how safe are children at home? Advocates said they're worried after seeing a drastic drop in child abuse reports this month.

"It's going to take us all to make sure these kids are safe," said Sara Smith, with the Missouri Department of Social Services.

It's a phrase you hear often: if you see something, say something. With Missouri children home from school during coronavirus outbreaks, however, child abuse and neglect could be going unseen and unreported.

"We're concerned kids might not have enough food in their home. Parents might've lost jobs," Smith said. "Stressors might be happening more than ever."

Smith is the Deputy Director of the Missouri Department of Social Services, Children's Division. She said just since March 11, the state has seen about a 50% drop in calls to the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline.

"Typically we see about 650 calls a day during this time of year during the week day. It's just going down significantly," Smith said.

Holly Beadle is the Executive Director with Isabel's House in Springfield. She called the drop in reports "concerning."

Beadle and Smith both said hotline calls typically come from mandated reporters in schools, day cares and churches.

"With that isolation, now, which we do need, but this is part of the byproduct of having everyone home," Beadle said.

Beadle said this is a stressful time for everyone, but especially so for parents who might be overwhelmed with financial strain or worried about child care.

"Research shows that increases chances of abuse and neglect," Beadle said.

Beadle and Smith said the children of this state deserve to be safe.

"Just because we're not seeing them doesn't mean that we can forget them," Smith said.

Smith said you don't have to see something to make the call. The Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline number is 1-800-392-3738. It's available around the clock, every day. Callers can make anonymous reports.