Child advocates worry abuse will go unreported during coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Those who work closely with children are sounding the alarm after seeing a decrease in child abuse reports during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a national trend but one Onondaga County is now seeing. This time last year, from March 16th to April 10th, Onondaga County Child Protective Services got 496 phone calls. This year, that number has decreased by just over 60 percent to only 197 calls. And those with the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center believe it’s not because abuse isn’t happening.

“That’s because most kids will report to a teacher, a care giver, a bus driver, and they’re not getting out and about so we’re not getting as many calls,” said Colleen Merced, the Executive Director of the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center.

Merced said this has happened before. Typically, the kids go home for summer break and suddenly, they’re getting less calls at the center. Then, when they get back to school in the fall, that number doubles or triples.

“Sometimes it takes children a long time to process. Maybe they don’t understand what happened is wrong. Maybe they’ve never had these conversations before, maybe they’ve been threatened or sworn to secrecy,” said Derek Tefft, Senior Outreach and Education Specialist for McMahon Ryan.

Before the pandemic, advocates would visit 65 local schools daily, teaching kids how to get help. They would share how to identify abuse, how to report it and who to trust. But now, they’re worried children are quarantined with their abusers. According to Tefft, 90 percent of the time, the abuser is someone the child knows, loves or trusts, like an immediate family member.

Now, with only essential employees heading into work, many people are either unemployed or stuck working from home. For a child who is stuck at home with their abuser, getting away to make a phone call or send an email can be difficult.

“You don’t ever want to put them in jeopardy. And that’s why we always tell them to find a safe adult to talk to. And sometimes that safe adult can be a mailman or can be a neighbor, someone they might see if they’re outside playing,” Merced said.

The center is working on other ways to get through to the kids using social media and getting involved in their online learning programs.

On the other hand, as child abuse reports decrease, Merced said reports of human trafficking have gone up. She says likely, kids are spending more time online and are more vulnerable to getting targetted.

“A lot of what we see for human trafficking for our county is young girls connecting with men online who think are their age or a little bit older,” Merced said. “Those men get them gifts and items and you know buy them into the fact that they care about them. And then once they meet them, they manipulate them.”

Those at the center are monitoring those developments closely and doing their best to bring those people to safety.

If someone is in immediate danger, you need to call 911.

Here are some other important hotlines:

New York State Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-342-3720

Trafficking & Exploitation Hotline: 1-315-218-1966

New York State Mandated Reporter Hotline 800-635-1522

The McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center has several resources for physical and sexual abuse. Click here to access their website.

More from NewsChannel 9:

For more local news, follow Julia LeBlanc on Twitter @JuliaLeBlancNC9.

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