DHS concerned about drop in child abuse calls, still investigating during COVID-19

Published: Mar. 27, 2020 at 8:02 AM MDT
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The El Paso County Department of Human Services said it’s seen a drop in reports of child abuse and neglect, but that’s not a good thing.

El Paso County gets nearly 17,000 calls for child abuse every year, which is the most in the state.

Executive Director Julie Krow said El Paso County DHS has seen a 43 percent drop in reports since the coronavirus outbreak started.

“We attribute that to schools not being in session and some child care centers not being open,” Krow said. “So schools and child care centers are mandated reporters, and so we think that the decrease in calls might be related to schools and child care being closed.”

Even with the drop in calls, DHS says it knows child abuse isn’t going down; it might even be increasing during the pandemic.

“Families are still under stress and probably even more stress than usual,” Krow said. “So we are worried about children who could still be being abused and neglected, and the stressors that families are seeing right now might include losing their job, not having children in school, not having the child care that they normally have or maybe needing to apply for benefits or unemployment benefits. So all of these things can be very stressful in addition to just the stress of knowing there’s a pandemic, and so we’re a little bit worried about kids and making sure they’re still safe while all of this is going on.”

DHS is considered a critical business. So even though the entire state of Colorado is under a mandatory stay-at-home order, child protection workers are still investigating abuse claims.

“Child safety is our first priority, and so we’ll make sure that children are safe to the best of our ability even during this pandemic,” Krow said.

“The Department of Human Services are essential employees and much like police or fire department staff or medical professionals, we are first responders, and we will still go out and investigate child abuse and neglect.”

The DHS workers are doing their best to keep themselves, children and families safe during the investigations.

“So it could look just a little bit different,” Krow said. “We might ask a family to step out onto the front porch, and we’ll keep that social distance of at least 6 feet.”

During the pandemic, child advocates are also making sure they’re checking on kids in the welfare system.

, who represent children in court when they’ve been removed from their homes, are also changing how they do their visits.

“CASA volunteers are still going and checking on the children. They’re still advocating in the court system for these kids. It looks a little different than it did a month ago. We are encouraging them to do more virtual visits. So we’re seeing more phone calls, more Skype, more FaceTiming, but they still are finding a way to check on the kids,” said Keri Kahn, the communications manager for CASA of the Pikes Peak Region.

CASA shares the same concerns as DHS.

“I think with school being out and with stress levels at kind of an all-time high for families, any time you see those stress levels go up, you can expect to see more child abuse and more child neglect,” Kahn said. “The kids need us now more than ever. They are more vulnerable now than they were a month ago.”

In 2019, volunteers supported 715 kids, but not every child was able to get an advocate.

“At any given time, there are about 830 kids in the Pikes Peak region that need a CASA volunteer.”

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You can also help make sure kids are safe by reporting anything that concerns you to the Child Abuse or Neglect Hotline at 1-844-CO-4-KIDS. The line is staffed 24/7.