Local agencies, DHS monitoring suspected child abuse more closely, expect a surge in reports

Published: Apr. 9, 2020 at 4:59 PM CDT
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Four Oaks serves some of the most at-risk kids, and now they have a new challenge of knowing when a child is being hurt or neglected at home.

"Because of COVID-19 this epidemic is really causing major disruption to those natural ways we monitor for safety,” said President and CEO Anne Gruenewald. "They are not in front of teachers or other school officials. They are also not in sports activities and the normal health care, medical visits are not there."

This graph from the Iowa department of human services shows the dramatic decrease in numbers of suspected child abuse reports during March. The first week, educators reported 342 cases, by the last week it dropped to 5, and reports by medical professionals dropped from 241 to 106.

"We're really trying to work with kids not only that live at home but kids in family foster homes and learning and residential shelters," said Gruenewald.

She says staff continues to keep children safe in homes by monitoring progress, checking in more frequently on at-risk families, both in-person using social distancing and virtual welfare checks. It's the same for foster children.

"What I really encourage folks to do is to make sure they are really paying attention to any concerns they have about their own family, their friends, their neighbors," she added. “It's way to find out if you should take further action such as calling 211 for more help."

They are also collaborating across agencies, such as school districts, to make sure suspected cases are still getting reported, and make sure during this time, kids aren't isolated.

"We're really trying to get them involved in doing constructive activities. For those not living with family, we are trying to get them video conferencing," she said.

However, they do expect to see a spike in abuse investigations once schools reopen and so they are preparing for that as well.

"It's also important to gear up and have additional capacity when those reports do come in to respond effectively," said Gruenewald.