(STL.News) – Attorney General Shapiro is calling on Pennsylvanians to report suspected instances of child abuse as data suggests there could be a surge in unreported cases. With schools closed for the year, vulnerable children are less visible to mandatory reporters including the teachers, coaches and bus drivers who report the highest number of child abuse cases.
With 1-in-5 Pennsylvanians out of work, financial stress can too often escalate into violence and abuse. While most families are able to cope and do their part during this emergency to protect our health care workers, neighbors and communities by staying home and staying safe—some will not. Since Pennsylvania schools closed, calls to ChildLine, PA’s child abuse hotline, were down by half in April. In 2018, 84 percent of child abuse reports came from mandated reporters, with the most coming from school employees. During the recession of 2008, when people across the nation where dealing with severe financial desperation, pediatricians reported an uptick in infant injuries and deaths.
“As our office works around the clock to protect Pennsylvanians during this crisis, we need the public to help out. Children are physically disconnected from mandated reporters, including teachers, coaches, and school staff,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “I urge all Pennsylvanians to stay vigilant for signs of abuse happening to the children in their lives. It’s critical that we protect the vulnerable members of our communities during this crisis.”
“As we combat this public health crisis, we can’t forget that some of the victims aren’t in the hospital with COVID-19, but in their homes cowering from the anger and rage of abusers from which they cannot escape,” said U.S. Senator Bob Casey. “It is imperative that each of us look out for the most vulnerable among us, the children whose families have been shaken by the pandemic and who themselves are suffering at the hands of others because of it.”
“During this societal upheaval and economic downturn, children are at their greatest risk for abuse and neglect,” said Dr. Philip Scribano, Section Chief of Safe Place: Center for Child Protection and Health, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “With the eyes and ears of our mandated reporter workforce significantly affected by physical distancing, it has only compounded these risks. We need to galvanize our efforts to support families with the basic necessities in hopes of mitigating these risks. And, as our Commonwealth begins to reopen, our vigilance in identifying and serving those children at risk will be paramount to avoid a secondary epidemic of abuse and neglect from this COVID-19 pandemic.”
As federal and state governments seek resources and aid for those affected by COVID-19, AG Shapiro and U.S. Senator Bob Casey will advocate for new emergency funding for these services. This funding will go to local child protective services, as well as non-profit organizations that seek to help new parents and prevent child abuse from happening in the first place. Shapiro and Casey’s push includes an additional $1.5 billion in funding for child abuse prevention and response efforts under the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.
The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General is asking all citizens to remain vigilant and continue to report suspected child abuse during the COVID-19 emergency. Concerned neighbors, community leaders, teachers, family members, and friends can call Safe2Say, the Office of Attorney General’s program which accepts anonymous tips regarding cyberbullying, self-harm, and instances of abuse reported by students and faculty. Community members can also call Pennsylvania ChildLine to file a report.
“I am urging everyone in the Commonwealth; if you see child abuse or neglect, report it,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “By banding together we will beat the COVID-19 crisis, but while we are doing that, we need to protect children in our communities. When you see children in your neighborhood, be aware of signs of abuse and don’t hesitate to report.”