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School closures remove safety net for children who may be suffering abuse

Schools provide potentially life-saving tips
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Posted at 4:24 PM, Mar 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-25 18:42:50-04

CLEVELAND — There's growing concern that the stress of the coronavirus outbreak could put the youngest in Northeast Ohio in danger as families contend with the stay-at-home order, instability of income, and the struggle to keep food on the table.

When children show up to class each day, teachers can typically tell if something is wrong with their little learners. Maybe it's something they hear or see that tips them off.

With schools now shuttered, victims of child abuse now find themselves without that safety net.

“The community that we rely upon to see our kids every single day and to tell us what’s happening aren’t there,” said Tamara Chapman-Wagner.

Chapman-Wagner is the Deputy Director of Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services.

“Right now, we have huge concerns that our children are out of the eyes and ears of the public’s,” said Chapman-Wagner.

The lack of resources they rely on comes at a critical time.

“When family stress is high, when they don’t have the resources and supports, when day cares start shutting down, the tension gets high and children are at greater risk of abuse,” said Chapman-Wagner.

This week, Cleveland Police confirmed that in fact is the case.

“Their calls are up around domestic violence and abuse. We know it’s still going on and that’s the sad part, that’s why our staff is still out there on the front lines,” said Chapman-Wagner.

Dozens of social workers are still ready to deploy at a moment’s notice despite the spread of COVID-19.

“All of our direct service workers are being dispatched from home. They still have active families that they are working with and they’re continuing to work with those families,” said Chapman-Wagner.

Child advocates are encouraging friends and family to use technology to stay connected with loved ones.

“If you see anything, if you hear anything, if you have concerns, our hotline is still open,” said Chapman-Wagner.

Those with concerns about child abuse can call 696-KIDS (5437). A team of 43 social workers man the hotline around the clock, ready to check on the welfare of a child.

“We would need to determine is the home safe enough to go into, so our workers have been advised to take that pulse before you go into a home,” said Elizabeth Nekoloff, Children and Family Services.

Despite coronavirus concerns, Children and Family Services is still prepared to remove a child from a dangerous situation.

Doctors at Metro Hospital will evaluate them.

“That’s the triage process we’ve always done when removing children from homes,” said Nekoloff.

Until classes resume, those with Children and Family Services are hoping we will all step in for teachers.

“We don’t have those eyes and ears right now, so it’s even more important that the community stay alert,” said Chapman-Wagner.