Calls to Hamilton County's 24-hour child abuse hotline dropped about 34% because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now Interim JFS Director Tim McCartney said Monday those calls are starting to increase. He said for the first time in his career - and hopefully the only time - he's glad to see that.
"We average about, in this time of year, 281 calls to our hotline in a given week," McCartney said. "That dipped substantially during the pandemic - down in 130s - and we're back up over 200 now. So again, not back where we want to be, but much much better."
The decline in calls to the hotline did not mean fewer children in the county were being abused or neglected. Instead teachers, daycare workers and others were not observing children because of the state's stay-at-home order.
And with schools closed for the summer, and daycare centers not reopening until May 31, McCartney says the call increases are happening because the public is paying more attention.
"This is not the mandated reporters, because they're not seeing the kids, teachers and the daycare folks," McCartney said. "This is you out there in the community, seeing something and saying something."
According to JFS, million of cases of child abuse around the country go unreported. Studies show only 1 in 10 incidents of abuse is actually confirmed by social service agencies.
"Home is not always a safe place for kids," McCartney said. "And during this pandemic when people have been holed up, you know some of the factors that lead to child abuse in the first place - substance abuse or mental health disorders - get exacerbated by that. People don't have the stress relievers that they might have had normally, and those things can lead to very very bad consequences for children."
The local agency offers this advice: "Do ask yourself if you have concerns. Do tell Children's Services if you do."
JFS has an online guide about child abuse or neglect. It says to look for these signs:
- Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes
- Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
- Is extremely compliant or extremely aggressive
- Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, tantrums)
- Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home
- Shrinks at the approach of adults
- Would rather spend time with a stranger than their parent or caregiver
- Is frequently absent from school
- Begs or steals food or money
- Lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses
- Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor