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CPS referrals from school staff have plummeted and calls to state Child Abuse Hotline have declined

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

One of the things that the COVID-19 pandemic has made abundantly clear is the significant role that schools play in the lives of our children. 

Schools not only educate our children, but for far too many it is the only place they are guaranteed to get a meal, be around adults who care about them, and sadly, school is the only place where a child feels safe.  Since mid-March in Virginia, CPS referrals from school staff have plummeted 94%, and calls to the state Child Abuse Hotline have decreased more than 50%.  According to the Children's Bureau, in 2017 about two-thirds of all CPS referrals were made by "professionals", with approximately 20% coming from school staff, 19% from law enforcement, 12% from social services staff, and 10% from medical personnel.  An additional 17% came from friends, neighbors, and family.  Other than law enforcement, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly limited a child's exposure to all of the people or systems that, in the past, have kept them safe. Other than law enforcement, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly limited a child's exposure to all of the people or systems that, in the past, have kept them safe. For example, in the first week of March, prior to the Governor's stay at home order, Fairfax County CPS received 438 calls to its child abuse hotline.  Calls dropped dramatically during the first week of April to only 61 calls. (  For those of us who work in the child welfare field, those numbers are horrifying.  

Many children who were already living in homes in which they were victims of child abuse and/or neglect, are now living in those environments 24/7 with little to no contact with the outside world.  Now add to that the additional stress the parents are under due to being out of work because of the pandemic, the subsequent financial problems that result, the likely increase in domestic violence, and the stress from being a parent, of which there is no break from.  Sadly, in most cases, we have no idea what is happening to our most vulnerable children and families.  Many of us held out hope that we just needed to get to September when we could lay eyes on the children most at risk of being abused and neglected.  Now, as a return to in-person school is becoming less and less likely, if not impossible, it will be even longer that our children are living in homes where they are being mistreated.  The stay at home order has also impacted those families that are working towards reunification with their children.  Many agencies have had to discontinue visits between children and their biological parents/families.  This is causing untold trauma on those relationships.

Sadly, the child welfare system may not be prepared to handle the almost certain spike of children who may come into foster care once things return to "normal".  Agencies across the country have routinely dealt with a shortage of foster parents for years prior to COVID-19.  Further complicating this, is that agencies have been unable to use many of the traditional recruiting strategies that involved them being out in the community.  Here in Virginia, the Spring and Fall are prime seasons for family oriented events and festivals that agencies use to recruit foster parents.  All of those events have been, or more than likely will be, cancelled.  So agencies are trying to become innovative in how to recruit new parents under these challenging, and unprecedented circumstances.  But make no mistake, just because you may not see agencies recruiting foster parents, people interested in being a foster parent are needed now more than ever. For people moved to inquire about being a foster parent to meet this impending spike of children entering care, now is the time.  Children, especially sibling groups, will be coming into care of every age, gender, and race, and they will be coming in at a rate that has probably never been seen before.  Now, more than ever, we will be looking for families for children, not children for families.  If you are lucky and blessed enough to have been minimally affected by COVID-19 and all of the fallout, please consider opening your home, family, and heart to children in need.  Because they are coming.  The question is: are you going to be there to meet them?   


Written By: Ronnie Gehring

Hampton Roads Site Director

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