COVID-19 lockdown robs advocates of ways to help kids exposed to abuse

By KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Child safety during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major concern since schools closed in March and children were no longer in regular contact with adults who might detect abuse. Child welfare officials have come up with few ways to compensate.

Officials knew there was a problem, immediately, when reports to the child abuse hotline dropped by more than half in the first full week of the stay-at-home order. At this point, calls are down by almost 70%.

"We know we are probably not being made aware of many incidents that have happened," Cynthia Figueroa, deputy mayor for children and families, said.

Figueroa says the city is pushing out messages to parents, with tips on how to reduce their own stress and prevent them from taking it out on their children -- and to teenagers, to remind them to look out for each other and to seek help if they need it.

Take Tazmir Ransom, a 7-year-old who had previously been in foster care, was beaten to death, last month. His mother has been charged. 

Figueroa says she hesitates to attribute the death to the pandemic, but he died on Wednesday, April 15, a day when, in ordinary times, he would have been in school, underscoring the danger the lockdown poses to children exposed to potential abuse.

Officials in Montgomery County are experiencing a similar situation, with calls down by over 60% in April, according to District Attorney Kevin Steele.

“In these difficult times, unfortunately, child abuse just does not stop. I am very concerned about what we're seeing, and the lower numbers that we're seeing,” he said.

With changes in how we interact now, Steele says how you look for signs of child abuse should also be different.

“Doing Zoom meetings to try and get eyes on kids anyway you can. We need everybody to just pay extra attention to the kids in our community right now,” he said.

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KYW Newsradio's Justin Udo contributed to this report.