A drop in child abuse reporting during pandemic causing concerns in South Carolina

A drop in child abuse reporting during pandemic causing concerns in South Carolina
This week, State Superintendent Molly Spearman told the "accelerateSC" task force that child abuse reporting is down. (Source: WIS)

RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - With all South Carolina students now learning from home, the number of alleged child abuse reports has fallen significantly.

But officials in our state said this is actually a reason for concern.

Teachers are oftentimes the eyes and ears for the Department of Social Services and, because of this, many educators are utilizing new methods to look out for their students even from a distance.

This week, State Superintendent Molly Spearman told the “accelerateSC” task force that child abuse reporting is down. She said that is likely because teachers are no longer in classrooms.

"There's been a lot going on with stress and families that has not been able to be reported nor supported," said Spearman.

According to Michael Leach, the director of South Carolina's Department of Social Services, the decrease in reporting is noticeable.

“For the week of 3-16 to 3-22, the department received 1,073 reports of alleged child abuse and neglect and vulnerable adult abuse,” said Leach. "This was a 25% decrease in volume, compared to one month ago, and 39% decrease in volume compared to one year ago at this time.”

Because of that, teachers are trying to figure out ways to keep an eye out from afar.

"It really is a challenge because we don't have control over their situations at home," said Cindy Williams.

Williams, who teaches at Round Top Elementary School in Blythewood, has been teaching for over 30 years. She said during her time as an educator, she has learned what to look out for when it comes to identifying abuse.

She, in turn, has also had to report a case in order to protect a student.

"She just seemed sad all the time and she had bags under her eyes and she was not clean a lot," said Williams. "I can still see her face to this day and that was 33 years ago."

That was only her second year on the job.

“It was truly heartbreaking and, as a second-year teacher, I don't think I was really prepared for everything that ended up happening, but it was an abuse situation," said Williams

Now because of this pandemic, schools and teachers have had to take new and creative steps to identify abuse.

“We don't know what's going on in their home situation, but many times that can be reflected if an email is not returned, a phone call is not returned, or if a child is not doing their work," said Williams.

DSS is also working with educators and community members to help to close the reporting gap created by this pandemic.

“We, as a department, are working with our partners like the Department of Education and the Department of Mental Health to advise the community that, if they witness or suspect a situation that threatens the safety or well-being of a child or a vulnerable adult to please contact our hotline,” added Leach.

Leach also told WIS that parental stress and financial instability are two risk factors for abuse and both of those factors are heightened during this pandemic.

If you suspect that the safety and well-being of a child may be at risk, please call the toll-free hotline at 1-888-CARE-4-US (1-888-227-3487).

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