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COVID affecting child abuse data


Last updated 4/15/2020 at 10:11am

Although state and county officials are seeing fewer reports of child abuse lately, there might be some troubling truth behind the improved statistics.

Officials say the statewide shutdown of schools and other facilities where children routinely come into contact with teachers and other trusted adults may be the reason for fewer reports. Those mandated reporters simply aren't seeing the kids on a regular basis and, therefore, not seeing possible signs of abuse.

"Those interactions just aren't taking place," said Cami Bremer, commissioner for El Paso County's District 5, during last week's Board of Commissioners meeting.

Instead, children are spending more time in their homes – in some cases with adults who might be the ones committing the abuse.

This phenomenon has been identified during what historically is observed as Child Abuse Prevention Month. Typically, a variety of agencies host events to raise awareness of the issue, but this year most of those have been postponed or turned to online venues.

"I still believe that it needs lots of attention, and perhaps now more than ever," Bremer said.

Last week, Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) Executive Director Michelle Barnes joined community partners, county leaders and child advocates for a virtual launch of Child Abuse Prevention Month. The occasion reinforced the importance of all Coloradans helping to build parental resilience, strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect during the coronavirus pandemic.

Each April, people in Colorado come together to make an extraordinary difference in the lives of both kids and families. This year, due to COVID-19 concerns and a statewide stay-at-home order, coming together and providing support looked different from past years. The virtual launch of Child Abuse Prevention Month in Colorado can be found online at

"Parenting isn't easy and is made even more difficult during times of stress and uncertainty," said Barnes. "As we all adjust to stay-at-home orders, canceled school, physical distancing and working from home, it's more important than ever that we support each another, protect our kids and help parents build their resilience."

Research has shown that isolation or limited social connections for parents are risk factors that can result in higher rates of child abuse and neglect. Parents and caregivers must take care of themselves so they can take care of their children.

"Every April, we reflect on what we're doing as a community to strengthen families. Now, as we work to slow the spread of coronavirus, this work is even more important," said Minna Castillo Cohen, director of CDHS's Office of Children, Youth and Families. "We want to remind everyone - but especially parents and caregivers - to take care of yourself. Many families are experiencing more stress during this time, so it's important to look out for each other, and for families to access the services and resources available to people in Colorado during this time."

Building parental resilience

Some ways parents and caregivers can care for themselves and community members:

Be strong in the face of stress. Identify your most challenging parenting moments and make a plan for what you will do when these moments come up.

Nurture caring friendships. Take your book club online or set up an online hangout with friends.

Grow your knowledge of parenting and childhood development.

Ask for support when you need it. If you haven't already done so, join a parenting group on Facebook or Nextdoor. It helps to know that other parents are experiencing the same struggles as you. Ask your online connections for ideas and advice.

Help your child manage their feelings and relationships. Help children develop skills so they can manage their emotions. This is especially important during this time of heightened anxiety in all of us. Respond warmly and consistently to your child.

Take regular breaks during the day when you need them. Create time to relax and do something you enjoy. Even it's just to sit and read a book for 20 minutes or practice a few yoga poses. Stepping away to recharge is important.

Go easy on yourself. There's no such thing as a perfect parent.

Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline

Since the closure of schools statewide, there has been a 50-percent decrease in calls to Colorado's Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline ― 844-CO-4-Kids. Given this decrease, Barnes encouraged everyone to call the hotline if they suspect a child may be experiencing abuse or neglect.

"Mandatory reporters, teachers, school staff and child care providers make up a significant percentage of calls to the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, but with schools closed and physical distancing in place across the state, calls to the hotline have dropped by about half," added Barnes. "That's why it's so important that everyone who may be concerned about a child's well-being make the call to the hotline at 844-CO-4-Kids."

Last year the hotline system received 219,478 calls. Local county social services agencies assessed the safety of more than 58,214 children and youth. Of those, 13,682 experienced abuse or neglect and an additional 13,790 families received voluntary support from social service.

During this time of physical distancing, Barnes suggests asking yourself the following as you interact with families by phone, video conference or even over the fence:

Are you noticing that adult caregivers have even more stress?

Does it appear that a family is struggling, perhaps with food insecurity?

Does it look like a house is unsafe?

Is there crying – especially endless crying – in the background?

If you ask the caregiver about this, how do they respond?

Are your kids sharing things about their friends that concern you?

These kinds of stressors are not child abuse and neglect in and of themselves, but you should listen to the concerns you're having. Last year, nearly 70 percent of children and teens involved in an open child welfare case in Colorado stayed safely at home while their family received services.

Follow #CO4Kids and #IfNotYou on social media to see how people in Colorado and across the country are caring for themselves so they can care for others. For more ways to help build parental resilience, strengthen families and protect Colorado kids, visit


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