OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – A year ago, in March 2020, as the pandemic hit hard and closed schools, reporting of child abuse and neglect dipped down to about half.
“We were normally seeing 325 to 350, calls a day and that number dropped under 150 calls on a daily basis,” said Gene Klein, executive director of Project Harmony.
Reports coming into the organization are almost back to the normal number it was seeing pre-pandemic.
“They stayed at the level pretty much through the summer, and then as schools started to open up, children were back in buildings, the reports of abuse and neglect increased,” Klein said.
Officials say the No. 1 reporters of child abuse and neglect are teachers, and that plays a factor in the increase of reports. But now that the reported cases are almost back to normal since the pandemic, Project Harmony has seen more physical abuse.
“I think physical abuse, in particular, is at a peak because of the family stressors that are out there. Lack of job security, food insecurity, while some of that has come back, we’re still seeing a lot of strain and stress on families,” said Klein.
With the help of local schools and Project Harmony’s programs like Telemental Health, Parent University, and their online assessability, Klein believes they can make a positive impact on keeping kids safe.
“We’ve continued through the pandemic to serve children and families and are fortunate to be in a community like Omaha where the support for that effort has been sustained,” said Klein.
Although child abuse and neglect won’t just go away — it will still be around post-pandemic — Klein said he hopes more kids will be out of harm’s way as signs of normalcy start coming back.
“This now becomes an opportunity, with the opening of the community, kids back in school — there are more eyes and people watching and supporting; so that if there is something going on, they have more outlets to let someone know, and then we can respond as a community,” he said.
Klein says local schools have been doing a phenomenal job with reporting cases and helping and guiding the children in need.
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