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Calls to Indiana's child abuse hotline down 40 percent in light of COVID-19

Posted at 5:22 PM, May 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-18 17:22:50-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Calls to the state’s child abuse and neglect hotline are down more than 40% compared to April 2019, according to the Department of Child Services director Terry Stigdon.

“Unfortunately we don’t believe this is because children are not being harmed,” Stigdon said. “COVID-19 forced the closure of many schools and activities.”

It’s a problem WRTV has reported on several times since the pandemic began.

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Stigdon said educators are among the top reporters of child abuse and neglect in Indiana.

“Because of this we provided tips for teachers so they could be on the lookout for signs of abuse and neglect when they connect with their students virtually,” Stigdon said.

In March 2019 (3/1 to 3/30), the Indiana Department of Child Services hotline received 16,132 calls.

In March 2020 (3/1 to 3/30), the DCS hotline received 14,366—that’s an 11% drop compared to last year.

It’s a trend child advocates feared would happen as children are isolated with their families and not seeing trusted adults who might report abuse or neglect.

“Our fear is that it is due to children not being seen by those who would normally report, schoolteachers, before and after school programs, counselors, etc,” Sandy Runkle, with Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, said. “Now more than ever, we need communities to come together, and to pay extra attention to children and families even if it is virtual.”

Stigdon said Monday they need your help.

“We must come together to care for those in our communities who need us,” Stigdon said. “Reach out to those who may be struggling. Offer to help—a bag of groceries, a kind word.”

As RTV6 reported, child advocates suspected that the drop in reports does not mean fewer children are being abused and neglected.

“There are still brave people working out in the community that see children and families on a regular basis: store clerks, postal workers, pharmacy employees sanitation workers, people just taking walks around their neighborhood,” Runkle said. “We need to pay special attention, now more than ever, to what is going on around us. We need to check in now more than ever with families.”

Prevent Child Abuse Indiana is asking stores to print resources to have at checkout lines around stress management, internet safety, where to go in terms of help with domestic violence, etc.

“Those types of resources can be so helpful,” Runkle said.

If you do suspect that a child is being maltreated, please call the Indiana Department of Child Services at 1-800-800-5556 to make a report.

You can report anonymously.