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Child abuse cases reported in Arizona could spike as schools reopen

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Child Safety usually sees an increase in child abuse cases reported as students head back to school, and it’s possible that increase could be even higher this time than previous years.

“We typically see about a 20% increase in August over other months,” Director Mike Faust told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“We’re concerned that spike will be larger predominantly because children and youth that are vulnerable to abuse and neglect have not been in the public eye for five months now.”

The coronavirus pandemic has kept many people home and kids out of sight.

Schools closed mid-March and most summer programs and camps were canceled, leaving adults who might recognize the signs of abuse unable to do so.

That has led to a decline in calls to the Arizona Child Abuse Hotline run by DCS.

“Since the middle of March, we’ve seen a reduction of the number of reports that are coming in to our hotline,” Faust said.

“Approximately a 25% to 30% reduction has been seen, and that’s been consistent throughout the pandemic.”

He added since the pandemic started, the department has taken in fewer reports per month for field investigation.

The biggest drop occurred in April when DCS took in 3,015 reports, compared to 4,428 reports last April.

There was also a significant drop in May, with 3,224 reports versus 4,109 reports last May.

Teachers who are required by state law to report suspected child abuse and neglect are usually among the adults who report the most cases.

But as many schools across Arizona resume classes entirely online, Faust said he’s concerned it will be challenging for teachers “to spot abuse and neglect when their only interaction with children and youth is through virtual tools.”

Still, he said there are signs they can look for, including physical injuries such as bruises and burns as well as sudden changes in a child’s behavior.

And it’s not just teachers who should be looking for potential signs of child abuse and neglect.

Faust said all Arizonans “have a role to play in this and do our part to protect Arizona’s vulnerable children.”

Suspected child abuse or neglect can be reported by calling the toll-free child abuse hotline at 1-888-SOS-CHILD or 1-888-767-2445.

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