Numbers of suspected child abuse reports decrease in Louisiana, but that doesn't mean child abuse has gone away
According to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, the number of suspected child abuse reports has decreased since schools closed in mid-March due to COVID-19.
Dr. Rhenda Hodnett, Assistant Secretary for Child Welfare at the Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services, said this is not unexpected. She said they typically see fewer reports once schools let out, since many primary reporters are teachers or school personnel.
Louisiana DCFS data received from a public records request shows that the statewide number of reports made in March, April, and May of 2020 are lower than those made in the same months during both 2018 and 2019.
The Louisiana stay at home order began on March 23 at 5 p.m. Phase one of the reopening began on May 15th.
This pattern can also be seen for reports in the Monroe Region, which includes data from Caldwell, East Carroll, Franklin, Lincoln, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas, Union and West Carroll Parishes.
Camille Phillips, Prevention Educator for the Children's Advocacy Center of NELA, said the Center works with law enforcement and DCFS to conduct interviews with children involved in these cases. She said, during the stay at home order, they were only doing interviews for children that were in immediate danger.
She said they interviewed 27 children during April of 2019. During April of 2020, they only interviewed one.
Phillips said, as the state entered phase one, they began to see more cases. However, she said the low number of cases doesn't mean abuse has gone away. Rather, it means we may not be seeing it.
"It is definitely still there. I feel that once things start to open up more, especially once school starts back up and those kids are really back in an atmosphere that they really feel comfortable in, I feel that those reports will come in."
Phillips said, even if you aren't a mandated reporter, it's important to be able to recognize the signs of child abuse. These can include unusual or rebellious behavior, inappropriate sexual behavior, or unexplained injuries, Phillips said.
"Especially now, during this time, having people more at home, especially with summer coming up kids are probably still going to be at home because we don't know what summer camps or anything like that might look like at this point. So, yeah, I definitely think it's good to keep an open mind and be aware of different signs and what to do if you do suspect that abuse."
Phillips said the Center will be holding Zoom trainings for both mandated reporters and community members to learn more about the potential signs of child abuse. Anyone interested in participating can contact her at email@example.com.
If you suspect a child is being abused in Louisiana, DCFS is encouraging you to contact them at 1-855-4LA-KIDS (1-855-452-5437). Phillips said you can report to DCFS or your local law enforcement agency.