THE INVESTIGATORS: Dip in reporting amid pandemic suspected as number of reported child abuse cases drops

THE INVESTIGATORS: DCFS officials suspect low child abuse numbers in 2020 may be due to lack of reporting

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Eight months into the pandemic, the levels of reported child abuse and neglect in Louisiana are down. Back in March, there was a nearly 50% drop in reports.

Mona Michelli, the deputy assistant secretary of child welfare for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), says the number of reports they receive usually drops in the summer, but this year, it was a lot lower than usual. The number of reported child abuse and neglect cases are also down year-over-year, with 34,777 reports recorded in 2019 compared to 26,982 reports filed in 2020.

“This wasn’t completely unexpected, but it was more significant than what we anticipated,” said Michelli. “In October, we’re at about only a 12 percent difference in the number of reports that we are receiving from 2019 to 2020.”

While it’s great news for the community, WAFB wanted to know why the trend is heading in that direction and why it seems to have started right as the coronavirus took hold in Louisiana. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the assistant secretary if she thinks the abuse is happening less frequently or if it’s just not being reported as often.

“Right now, we’re thinking that it’s not being reported as much because there’s not as many eyes and ears out there for these children,” said Michelli.

When school let out early back in March, Michelli says for about six months, those children did not come in contact with as many teachers and counselors. Because of the pandemic, many children also didn’t see their doctors in person either. With fewer of those in-person contacts, fewer reports were made to DCFS. Michelli says it’s critical that those children have those regular contact with some of those mandatory reporters like teachers, guidance counselors, and doctors.

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While DCFS did not see as many reports in 2020, Michelli says the ones they did see were more severe, especially as the pandemic and other problems wear on families across the state.

“We’re seeing a lot of the neglect in the forms of lack of supervision, like leaving children at home alone because of either lack of child care or increased substance abuse due to the stressors involved related to COVID and hurricanes and everything else we have going on in Louisiana right now,” said Michelli.

Michelli says they’re encouraged by the numbers being lower, but says it’s important that abuse is not going under-reported. She says it’s up to everyone to check on their friends and neighbors in order to make sure that if they see signs of abuse or neglect to get DCFS to intervene.

“Make sure if you suspect that it’s abuse or neglect to report it so that we can assess and provide supportive services to help the family,” said Michelli.

Anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect is occurring can contact the DCFS hotline 24 hours a day at 1-855-452-5437.

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