With the school out, it is even more important for New Yorkers to be vigilant in reporting suspected instances of child abuse and neglect during New York’s coronavirus outbreak lockdown.
New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) is urging residents to keep a watchful eye on the wellbeing of the children in their community amid the ongoing pandemic.
“As we recognize this year’s Child Abuse Prevention Month, we must be reminded that, now more than ever, families are under an unusual amount of stress due to the COVID-19 public health crisis,” ACS Commissioner David A. Hansell said in a statement.
On March 22, Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially enacted the “stay at home” order under the NY PAUSE program in a bid to prevent an increase of COVID-19 infections. The order is a prudent measure as the state faces an insurmountable crisis with 76,876 of positive cases so far in New York City alone, effectively making it an epicenter of the outbreak in the country.
Although done for good reason, this indefinite “pause” — just extended to April 29 — has burdened the city’s most vulnerable populations, including children who may be stuck in abusive or unhealthy home situations. New York City’s ACS investigates roughly 60,000 reports of child abuse and neglect every year, but could not answer whether the agency is devoting additional resources to monitor and support existing cases of families in crisis.
“I typically see more cases in the fall because abuse that occurs during the summer often goes undetected. I expect that when this period of social distancing comes to an end, I’ll see a similar surge,” wrote Dr. Nina Agrawal, a child abuse pediatrician, in a recent op-ed published in the New York Times.
New York City’s public school system — the largest in the nation serving well over a million students — has been shut down since March 16. School teachers are obligated by law to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect and account for 20% of cases reported nationwide. In New York, 70% of child abuse or neglect reports called in to the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment, known as the Child Abuse Hotline, previously came from schools, according to a report by lohud.com.
With school out, educators find it more difficult to look out for their students. It has been three weeks since New York City’s schools were shuttered but there is little information to determine whether cases of child abuse and neglect have increased during the lockdown.
New York City’s ACS was unable to confirm whether they had an uptick in reports since the lockdown. A spokesperson said the agency does not have the numbers available yet but emphasized that their child welfare investigations are continuing as usual. ACS has also issued emergency guidance to ensure staff conduct proper COVID-19 prevention protocols while carrying out their work such as wearing face covers to prevent potential spread.
Meanwhile, the state’s Office Of Children and Family Services (OFS) said they had seen a brief decline in reports through the Child Abuse Hotline but that is not necessarily an indicator of fewer cases happening in reality.
“Calls to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) have decreased slightly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is common when children are not attending school. However, it would be premature and inaccurate to consider this a trend,” a statement sent to Bklyner from an agency spokesperson read. They noted caseworkers were conducting family visits and interviews in-person and online due to the ongoing public health crisis, and said that we’d need to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get even ballpark numbers.
It is clear without the supervision of school teachers it is even more important for New Yorkers to be vigilant in reporting suspected instances of child abuse and neglect during New York’s coronavirus outbreak lockdown.
Child abuse or neglect as defined by the Family Court Act of the state of New York is “the act, or failure to act, by any parent or caretaker that results in the death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation” of a minor.
The ACS website provides a list of key tells to identify possible harmful situations for children. In addition to physical and sexual abuse, ACS is also concerned about neglect – including leaving a child who is not developmentally able alone without adequate supervision, leaving them with someone incapable of providing proper supervision and care, and subjecting a child to humiliation, fear, verbal terror, or extreme criticism.
In a new PSA put out by the agency — which has aired on Radio NYC (91.5 FM) since the beginning of April — Commissioner Hansell advises residents to report any suspected child abuse or neglect to 311 or the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-342-3720. He also reminds residents that they can do so anonymously.
According to Dr. Agrawal, small acts of support toward a struggling family, such as donating food and toys or conducting virtual check-ins, are some ways to prevent child abuse or neglect as it eases family stress.
“Look for signs of distress and remember that anyone can report concerns to child protective services, but also simply serve as a reassuring, reliable presence. Remember that social distancing doesn’t have to mean emotional distancing,” she wrote.