CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Reports of child abuse are down nearly forty percent in South Carolina from this time last year.
Unfortunately, that does not mean abuse is actually down.
Family and home dynamics are dramatically shifting during the COVID crisis.
Kids are schooling at home and there's more pressure on parents than ever.
"We know that parental stress- I'm stressed being a parent in the age of Covid right now. And then financial instability. A lot of unemployment going on a people wondering how they're gonna pay the bills. Those are risk factors for child abuse and neglect. And they're heightened during this pandemic right now," said Michael Leach, Director of S.C. Department of Social Services.
Leach fears many child abuse cases are under the radar right now because kids are not in school interacting with teachers, counselors and bus drivers who are mandated reporters.
"Teachers are our eyes and ears," he said.
He said in one week in March they received about 1,000 reports of child abuse & neglect.
"That was about a 25% decrease in volume from the previous month. So from February 2020 to March 2020, we saw about a 25% decrease. And then about a 39% decrease from this March 2019 to this March. It is something we're worried about and concerned about," Leach said.
Leach said our state court system is still handing emergency hearings which is very helpful for many DSS cases.
Despite the health risks, Leach said DSS workers are still investigating and have to complete some in-home visits, using masks and gloves when needed.
"Face to face is our most critical tool that we use, making sure you get an idea of what's going on with the dynamics of a family, home environment, talking to the child alone or adult alone," he said. "Our professionals are first responders. People don't typically think of them that way but they're going into places other people may not go."
Leach says their workers are often criticized but that they are doing essential work to protect children who have very few other people looking out for them right now.
He also said he's never responded to or experienced anything like the impact of this pandemic.
"This is the most challenging thing that we in the social services setting have ever dealt with. It takes a toll on your workforce, families you're working with and vulnerable adults. You just try to do the best you can."
To report a potential case of child abuse or neglect, immediately contact the county DSS office where the child resides. Intake staff will assist the person making the report and assess the information provided to determine if an investigation is necessary. Do not email. Please call.