News23ABC I-Team Investigates


Calls about child abuse have dropped dramatically because of the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 6:48 PM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-09 03:00:44-04

Newly obtained data shows calls for child abuse to the Kern County Department of Human Services have dropped dramatically because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since schools were shut down earlier this year and stay-at-home orders were put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic the number of suspected child abuse calls to the Kern County Department of Human Services has dropped by nearly half.

"It is something that we've been concerned about," said Pam Holliwell, Asst. Director of DHS Child Protective Services.

Holliwell said with kids out of school people like teachers are reporting less frequently because they're no longer seeing the children every day.

"They spend probably the most time in a day with a child or children. And so once school was out that did have an impact on the number of mandated reporters calling into our hotline."

Through a public records request, 23ABC was able to take a closer look at the numbers.

In April of 2018, there were 1,228 reports. In April of 2019, there were 1,275 reports. This April, however, there were only 567 reports.

It was a similar story in May. In 2018, there were 1,172 reports. In 2019, there were 1,328 reports. This year, though, there were only 685 reports.

DHS officials said suspected abuse is likely still happening, but COVID-19 isn't making children as visible to mandated reporters.

That's why now, more than ever, DHS is encouraging everyone to call if they suspect a child may be being abused.

"You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child, it really does depend on the eyes and ears of our community. Even more so at this point, because there was a lag in referrals while school was out," explained Holliwell.

They're also reminding mandated reporters and the community to speak up through a new video on social media. They're reminding people even if they're not sure abuse is happening it's better to call and let DHS decide how to move forward.

"We just want to really remind people and encourage them that if they even have an inkling, to call us and allow us to check it out," said Holliwell.

23ABC also reached out to local law enforcement about the number of child abuse cases they've had. The Bakersfield Police Department shows between March and June of this year numbers are slightly down compared to the past two years. And the Kern County Sheriff's Office said between March and May they are also down slightly compared to last year.

To report suspected child abuse or neglect, you can call Kern County's 24-hour hotline at 661-631-6011 or, if it's an emergency, call 911.