GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – Doctors, counselors and investigators – who all have a job to protect children – are seeing kids in dangerous abuse and neglect situations like they haven’t faced before.
Some tell Action 2 News they’re even witnessing abuse happening to kids while they were on live meets during virtual school.
So, why is that abuse being revealed now?
“Kids are at home. People are at home. Things are going to happen at home and kids don’t have anybody else to tell,” said Detective Cassie Pakkala of the Green Bay Police Department.
The pinwheels blowing in the wind outside the Willow Tree Child Advocacy Center in downtown Green Bay are a lighthearted yet sad symbol of the 144 children brought to the center this year. They’re also a stark contrast to the abuse they’ve suffered in silence before arriving at the center – often with police – to get help.
“We interview children in regards to concerns of physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug endangerment, neglect, at times emotional abuse, ICAC cases and sex trafficking as well,” says Kristie Sickel, the Program Supervisor at Willow Tree Cornerstone CAC.
Sickel says reported cases of abuse actually went down during the early part of the pandemic, but isolation and shutdowns may just have been hiding the abuse.
“The things that we have seen, seem to be more severe,” says Detective Pakkala.
Specifically, cases of neglect and drug endangerment. Nearly 40% of calls to Brown County Child Protective Services during the pandemic were considered emergencies, with an increasing number so severe, they sought court orders to protect – or even remove- kids from homes.
“Almost immediately when that worker hangs up with that reporter, we’re sending somebody out to the scene to begin that assessment. There might be kids unattended on a busy street, or situations where a search warrant has been executed and they found drugs,” said Marc Seidl of Brown County Child Protective Services.
“A lot, we’ve been seeing a lot, or hearing a lot, of newborn babies being born drug addicted,” said detective Pakkala. “Methamphetamine is a big problem.”
Dr. Ben Eithun, Director of Injury Prevention at American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, helps investigate and treat kids who’ve been abused or neglected around the state. He’s noticed a big difference when kids are out of sight of many adults – especially mandatory reporters – like teachers.
“We’re seeing about 50% higher numbers across the board compared to pre-COVID,” said Dr. Eithun.
But even in virtual school, Dr. Eithun says teachers actually witnessed abuse as it was happening.
“So I’ve had kids that are referred because they had their cameras or they thought they had their microphones and their cameras were still on and people observed abuse in the house,” said Dr. Eithun.
While he’s seeing a dramatic increase in cases, he’s afraid there’s far more unreported abuse.
Dr. Eithun is seeing more injuries and infections in kids – left untreated over COVID fears – and more kids getting in household accidents because parents aren’t with them. In fact, everyone Action 2 News spoke with said neglect – either from parents forced to leave kids home while they worked, are too mentally unstable to care for their kids or who turned to drugs – were at the root of most of the child maltreatment.
“And we see them in the ICU not infrequently,” said Dr. Eithun.
“We were finding very young children with sometimes multiple illicit substances in their system,” said Seidl. “Like kids testing positive for cocaine,”
While searching to find cases, Action 2 News found state court records showing 188 people have been charged so far this year with child abuse.
In Brown County alone, 17 people faced a judge in just the last two weeks for charges with some form of child abuse or neglect.
Prosecutors say in one of those cases, a 12-year-old boy flagged down a Green Bay police officer on patrol to get help after his mother punched him in the face while driving drunk.
In a separate case, prosecutors say someone called police in Hobart when they saw ‘three children, seven or eight years old, walking around carrying an infant and their mother was drunk, lying in the woods and howling.’
Police and Child Protection Services were also called to a hotel in Ashwaubenon, and say they found three kids ages eight and younger in the room, ‘where they found meth, fentanyl and cocaine.’
During interviews at Willow Tree, prosecutors say those kids watched their parents ‘smoke (drugs) in the car… while they watched a movie in the backseat,’ and went on to say that when they’re hungry, they had to try and ‘wake (their mom) and beg for food.’
The six-year-old didn’t know colors, how to count, or how to spell his own name, and the kids tested positive for met.
Prosecutors say they were not attending school, even virtually. Investigators say that kind of isolation may be driving more severe abuse because young kids can’t just walk away.
“They’re dependent upon their caregivers or parents to shield them from that type of behavior, and that’s not happening,” said Seidl.
With kids mostly back to school in-person, investigators are hoping cases will get to them faster, but it’s too soon to tell. They say this is so widespread now, it involves parents they’ve never dealt with before.
If you suspect a child may be in danger, you don’t need proof, and authorities say they just urge you to call for help.
Wisconsin Department of Children and Families – CLICK HERE
Wisconsin Child Protection Services – CLICK HERE
University of Wisconsin Health – CLICK HERE or call 608-890-8907
Brown County Child Protection Services – CLICK HERE or call 920-448-6035
Willow Tree – CLICK HERE
Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (Signs of Abuse/Neglect) – CLICK HERE
Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (How to make a report statewide) – CLICK HERE
Wisconsin Child Welfare Professional Development System – CLICK HERE
Copyright 2021 WBAY. All rights reserved.