The number of child abuse cases seen by the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center (DCAC) since the COVID-19 pandemic began locally has decreased drastically.
But DCAC leaders say that’s more alarming than encouraging.
Lynn Davis, president and CEO of DCAC, said there has been almost a 50-percent reduction in the reporting of child abuse cases to the organization from March, when students were still in school, to April, when they have spent the entire month at home.
“Generally reports come from other caring adults,” Davis said. “But when the child is alone or with their parents, those aren’t getting reported. Shelter in place really disrupted the normal reporting channels.”
According to data from DCAC, there were 2,066 reports of child abuse cases read at the organization in February and 2,478 in March. That number dropped to 1,485 in April.
“This (stay at home orders) has been devastating for the reporting of these cases,” Davis said.
There is an even sharper contrast between April of this year and April of 2019 when there were 4,024 cases.
Davis said once the children are again in front of caring adults who report on signs of child abuse, the number of cases will spike.
Despite the drop in reports, Davis said there are still too many cases. They’re just happening in different circumstances.
“We’re still seeing emergency and urgent cases,” Davis said. “The perpetrator may be at home with the child. So we’re seeing more physical abuse cases than we normally do. That’s one of the things that can happen when there’s a lot of pressure in the family. There could be a loss of a job, or the perpetrator isn’t used to being around the child 24/7.”
Davis said there has also been a slight increase in juvenile child abuse cases where a child abuses his or her younger sibling.
Davis encourages residents to be watchful for children’s condition, especially at a time when teachers and other adults aren’t around to report possible signs of abuse.
“One thing people can do is to get educated about the topic,” Davis said, adding that signs of abuse and how to report it can be found at dcac.org.
Some things to look for include a child no longer wanting to go see family members whereas they used to look forward to going.
“Keep your eyes and ears open,” Davis said. “If something looks suspicious or it looks like a child isn’t being taken care of, make a report. You don’t have to know for sure. Just report it, and let the experts determine if there’s anything to it.”