“Child abuse cases are getting more severe, which isn’t surprising because people are sheltered during COVID,” said Kim Mauthe, executive director of Teller County Human Services. “The isolation has been a huge component of that. Our investigations have gone up.”
One year ago in March, the pandemic caused the world to go into lockdown, with businesses closed, and parents and children thrust together 24/7. As well, education of the nation’s students shifted to remote learning, keeping students at home.
Next month, the Teller County Board of County Commissioners will proclaim April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. Although it’s an annual observance, this year is different.
“When all these stay-at home orders went into effect, the number of call to the hotlines greatly decreased — in Teller County and at the state and federal levels,” said Mary Longmire, child and family services administrator for DHS. “While the calls decreased, we knew that everyone’s stress level had greatly increased.”
The stressors included furloughs, layoffs, concerns about COVID and general anxiety.
“Your life has been uprooted with parents trying to work at home while trying to keep their kids in remote school,” Longmire said.
But in recent weeks, with children returning to school in person, where they can be observed, the calls reporting child abuse, which includes sexual abuse, have increased. “The calls we’re getting are more serious,” Longmire said.
As well, incidents of domestic violence and substance abuse have increased during the pandemic lockdowns.
And new this year is educational neglect of children as a result of the isolation and remote learning. “Children aren’t logging on. It’s just so difficult for parents who are trying to figure out what education looks like now,” Longmire said.
When the schools were able to re-open, some parents were afraid to potentially expose their children to COVID and kept them home. And in some cases, the home doesn’t have adequate internet connection for remote learning.
“We’re getting a lot more of those referrals about educational neglect; people are wanting us to investigate. But that’s a difficult thing to try to figure out,” Longmire said.
Longmire’s team does respond in person to homes where educational neglect has been reported. However, she sympathizes. “I can understand how difficult it must be for parents,” Longmire said.
There’s help available throughout the state’s Collaborative Management Program.
In Teller the program is called FACT – Families and Communities Together — which includes DHS, Woodland Park and Cripple Creek/Victor school districts, Community Partnership Family Resource Center.
“They have collaborative meetings with the family to look at educational issues,” Longmire said. “We look at the barriers parents are facing in trying to do this remote or in-person learning.”
The commissioners’ proclamation, to be read April 8, highlights the role the community, volunteers, agencies, nonprofit organizations and individuals play in helping to keep kids safe.
Among them is Court Appointed Special Advocate and Kari Dimmick, program manager for CASA in Teller County.
“We have fewer volunteers and more kids who need a CASA volunteer,” said Keri Kahn, CASA’s communications manager. “Calls for abuse and neglect of children have increased this year by about 30%. There are 900 kids in El Paso and Teller counties who need a CASA.”
CASA’s next training sessions for advocates begins April 13. To register for the classes, held on Zoom, check casappr.org.