Child abuse during the pandemic — fewer cases or less reporting?

Local News

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — On March 23, 2021, the Kern County Board of Supervisors proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Kern County.

The Department of Human Services will use this month to highlight the importance of preventing child abuse in Kern County. 17 News is using this month to not only bring awareness to child abuse prevention but also take a look back at how the pandemic has reports of suspected child abuse.

“So April, every year we set it aside for Child Abuse Prevention Month, just to remind the community that it is still a concern all around us. And we do some special training to equip the community so that they know what is child abuse and how do I report it,” said Jana Slagle, spokesperson for the Kern County Department of Human Services.

Last year, five children died of abuse or neglect in Kern County and the year before that, two children lost their lives to abuse or neglect, according to the department.

Child abuse is broken down into different categories; Sexual abuse, physical abuse, severe neglect, general neglect, emotional abuse, exploitation and caretaker absence or incapacity. Here in Kern County, Slagle said the most commonly seen abuse is general neglect.

“It could be mental health issues of a parent or substance abuse issues things like that that can cause parents to be unable to care for their children and not even know what’s going on in the home,” she said. “We do see that most prevalently here in Kern County.”

When the pandemic hit, the number of suspected child abuse referrals received by Human Services went down. Those reports can be found here.

“So, you know, similar to other California counties,Kern did see a decline in reports of child care referrals beginning in March due to the state stay-at-home order, and then they started to pick up in August,” Slagle said. “They began to increase, so we did see that, and it may be because of the virtual classrooms and things like that.”

Educators are mandated reporters and are usually consistently around children and able to report suspected abuse more commonly than others. Knowing this could help us understand one of the reasons why, in March 2020, 1,035 suspected child abuse referrals were received, but by April, when children transitioned to distance learning, that number dropped to 568 referrals received.

“I’m sure it is in part due to (the fact that) the kids are less seen because they are home more,” said Slagle. “It’s really hard to say what the reason is. Kids are meeting virtually now for school, so teachers are still able to monitor kids and how they are doing, but I think traditionally our numbers show too the kids that are the most vulnerable to abuse or neglect are under 5 years old, and a lot of that is because they aren’t seen as often.”

This Friday at 11 a.m., the Kern County Department of Human Services will be offering an online training through Zoom to teach the community more about prevention and ways to recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect. To join the meeting, click here.

For more information about Child Abuse Prevention Month, check out the KCDHS website.

To report suspected abuse or neglect, call 661-631-6011.

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