Yesterday, County Executive Calvin Ball addressed how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted reports of child abuse and neglect in Howard County. Since the beginning of the pandemic in mid-March, Howard County Department of Social Services has seen an average 60% decrease in Child Protective Services (CPS) reports. Ball was joined by Department of Social Services (DSS) Director, Stephen Liggett-Creel, State’s Attorney Richard Gibson, and Howard County Police Chief Lisa Myers. Photos of the event can be found here. Video can be found here.
“Throughout this pandemic, we have seen the cracks and ruptures in our society exacerbated, including a concerning trend of an average 60% less reports of child abuse and neglect compared to last year,” said Ball. “Child abuse is most frequently referred from our school systems, but with most students learning online, it can be more difficult for teachers and staff to identify abuse. We want to do everything to keep children safe and families thriving together.”
A significant factor in this decline is our children not directly engaging with teachers, mental health and medical professionals. From September 2018 to August 2019 educational staff were the leading reporters during school months, followed by mental health staff and police. With children learning and receiving services in a virtual environment, reporting sources do not have the same access and therefore are not able to see the signs and impact of child abuse of students or clients.
“During this pandemic, children are spending more time at home,” said Stephen Liggett-Creel, Director of DSS. “If you have concerns or see changes in a child, be there for them. Know the signs, ask questions, seek help. Report suspected child abuse or neglect in Howard County by calling 410-872-4203.”
Common signs of possible child abuse or neglect include:
· Children having unexplained injuries or marks, such as burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes
· A child who’s reluctant to explain their injuries after returning home from being in someone else’s care
· Being frequently absent from school
· Begging for or stealing food or money
· Is consistently dirty or lacks sufficient clothing for the weather
· Or, a parent who offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for a child’s injury, or provides an explanation that’s inconsistent with an injury
“During this challenging time, we are all being urged to stay home as much as possible, and to stay safe,” said Police Chief Lisa Myers. “But if you’re a child in an abusive environment, staying home may not be safe at all. We need the community’s help and information to protect children who might be at risk.”
The DSS conducts assessments of reports of abuse and neglect and determines the appropriate action to be taken. DSS’s first focus is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and second to provide support and services to families to help them overcome any challenges they face. Whenever possible, DSS’s goal is always to keep families together and to prevent further abuse and neglect. The DSS encourages parents who find themselves struggling in their parenting to reach out for resources and support. There are prevention programs which can provide a variety of supports to assist parents before child abuse or neglect occurs.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a perfect storm of factors that has led to an overall decrease in the number of child abuse/neglect cases being screened by our office so far this year,” said State’s Attorney Rich Gibson. “We are troubled to see these lower numbers if they, in fact, equate to underreporting as opposed to less abuse. We encourage young kids and teens to talk to a trusted adult in their life about the difficult situation they are experiencing. A trusted adult could be a family member, a friend’s parent, or a neighbor. Confiding in that adult may be a child’s best opportunity to end the abuse.”
For more information on child abuse and a full list of signs of child abuse and neglect, please visit the Department’s at https://dhs.maryland.gov/coronavirus-covid-19-resources/prevent-child-abuse-neglect-covid/.
To report child abuse or neglect, please call the CPS Reporting Line: 410-872-4203 (during business hours), or 410-313-2200 (after hours, police non-emergency).