BAKERSFIELD, Calif — The Kern County Department of Human Services is shining a spotlight on the importance of keeping our children safe.
It's a year-round mission, but the month of April is specifically dedicated to raising awareness about child abuse prevention and reminding the community of signs we all should be paying attention to.
“Abuse and neglect are both widespread and too often invisible and I think that people are too often afraid to report things when they see them,” Jana Slagle with the Kern County Department of Human Services said.
Slagle explains that this pandemic has strained many families and being out of school could have an impact on how many incidents of abuse are reported.
"In the past, it would increase when children were in school and around their teachers because a lot of times teachers are the reporting parties because they are with the kids most of the time,” Slagle said.
But, despite students being away from the classroom for many months, Slagle explains that the Kern County Department of Human Services still receives hundreds of calls per month in regards to child abuse which includes emotional, physical or mental abuse.
“The biggest one in Kern County is general neglect and often times we see that when a parent is addicted to a substance and then they are just unable to provide the care that their child needs," Slagle said.
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According to the Department of Human Services, at the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, the department reported a 33% increase of cases of severe child neglect as compared to March of 2019. By the end of 2020, in December, there was a total of 8,224 general neglect cases for the year.
The Department of Human Services encourages the community to contact their hot-line number at 661-631-6011 if you suspect a child may be being abused or neglected. Some of those signs include cuts or bruises in areas that a child wouldn’t usually have marks from playing, but there are other signs that are harder to detect.
“A child could be extremely withdrawn, it could also be a sudden change that occurs, where a child was really social and now is really withdrawn and doesn’t want to do anything or talk to anybody,” Slagle said.
Slagle hopes that more people in the community will start speaking up if they see something in order to keep more children safe.
“We as community people just need to be aware and watch the children in our lives and you know help families when it looks like they are struggling," Slagle said.
The Department of Human Services will be host a free zoom training about the signs of child abuse on Friday, April 9th at 11 a.m.