HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is concerned with a dramatic decrease in reports of child abuse and neglect.
Officials said the switch to online learning has made it harder for teachers, counselors and coaches to notice troubling signs.
DFPS reports more than 8,000 fewer calls of neglect, physical and sexual child abuse to Child Protective Services in the month of April compared to this time last year. Online reporting, a tool used primarily by teachers and other professionals, is down 56%.
Experts say it’s likely because these kids aren’t physically in the classroom.
“I think we are all concerned about whether kids and families are getting what they need to stay sane, reduce stress and be good parents,” said Sasha Rasco, the Association Commissioner for the Prevention and Early Intervention Division with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
But despite the empty hallways, there are still a lot of eyes on students at the Hays Consolidated Independent School District. Charlotte Winkelmann, the director of counseling at the district, developed new protocols for reporting suspicions teachers may encounter virtually.
They were trained to look out for warning signs and given a streamlined process with step-by-step instructions for making a report. Having clear-cut guidelines for reporting suspicious behaviors can ease anxiety for teachers who may notice the signs virtually, Winkelmann said.
“We try to create those pathways, those flowcharts that if this is happening, this is what you do next,” Winkelmann said. “We just have to make a special effort to make sure those kids are protected and to find those children who have not reported in for classwork or have not reported in at all.”
HCISD has also made new resources available for students, parents and teachers to avoid the stresses of the pandemic.
Winkelmann said both teachers and local police and sheriffs deputies are performing wellness checks for the district. At the end of the semester, district officials will look back at the reports they’ve made to DFPS before considering improvements for the spring.
Rasco said instances of child abuse have escalated before periods of economic crisis. That includes during the 2008 financial recession and Hurricane Harvey. Rasco suggests families reach out for help if they are feeling stressed.
“Families aren’t just stressed by being home and being isolated but also by potential losses from jobs and being confined with one another,” Rasco said. “It is definitely unsettling to not have eyes and ears on kids and not have those supports wrapped around families.”
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