With students across Ohio now learning from home, it's tougher for teachers to see and report the signs of child abuse and neglect.
Since schools closed in mid-March, officials say reports of child abuse and neglect have dropped nearly 50% throughout the state. They say that’s not because there’s been a decrease in the abuse or neglect itself, but because teachers aren’t able to regularly interact with and observe their students.
To address the issue, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is teaming up with the Ohio Department of Education.
“We recognize that many families may be under more stress and experiencing more challenges, especially if they're cooped up in the house together, 24 hours a day somewhat isolated,” Kristi Burre, the Director of Children Services Transformation for ODJFS, said.
The departments are producing materials and resources for school districts and teachers. Burre says those materials and resources will help them identify signs of abuse and neglect in their virtual interactions with students and families - like strained responses to questions, the tone of an interaction, or being unable to contact a child or caregiver.
“Some of the strategies that Ohio districts, school districts are doing they're also creating families support lines that they're publishing on their websites,” Burre said.
Officials are also having regular conversations with various county childrens' services agencies about the decline in reports. Burre says some counties have had deeper declines than others.
“We’re working with them to make sure that they have that information at their fingertips, for their own local work in their communities,” Burre said.
Some state lawmakers are also trying to help. Monday, State Representative Juanita Brent sent a letter to Governor Mike DeWine addressing the many issues stemming from the move to remote learning - including parents who may not know how to interact with their children.
“You have more cases of parents who are going off on their children, they're not helping educate their children and there is like a form of abuse or neglect from the parent. So we have to almost re-educate our communities how to work with our children underneath this new normal,” Rep. Brent, said.
ODJFS officials say they’ve noticed some improvement in the weeks since they started some of these efforts. The number of reports to its child abuse and neglect hot line have increased by about 2%, though not close enough to the levels of reporting the department was receiving prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ODJFS state child abuse and neglect hot line number is 855-O-H-CHILD (855-642-4453).