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How child abuse cases could be underreported due to coronavirus pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic shuts down schools across California, child care advocates worry child abuse cases are going unnoticed.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — Child abuse prevention workers are sounding the alarm that child abuse cases could be underreported due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Mike Mason, program manager for the non-profit organization Kids First, spoke about why cases are on the decline and signs to look out for that possibly point to abuse.  

"We all knew there are some kids; the school was their safe place," Mason said. "It was a haven for them. Now they're in an abusive household under the worst circumstances their caretakers or their parents are perhaps now more stressed due to the coronavirus climate." 

Mason said he began to notice the number of child abuse and neglect cases decline almost immediately after California began its stay-at-home order on March 19, 2020, from 10 reports a day to nearly none. According to the Sacramento County Department of Child, Family and Adult Services, the county saw a 49% drop in child abuse calls for April and May compared to the same months in 2019.

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Mason said school employees were the most prominent reporters of suspected abuse, which could account for why there has been a sudden drop in reported child abuse and neglect casesSchools across the state are closed due to the pandemic. 

In the meantime, Mason said the responsibility to report child abuse falls now to the general public. Some of the signs for abuse and neglect to look out for include poor oral hygiene, dirty clothes, and bruises. 

Now that it is summer, children wearing long-sleeved jackets might be a red flag for hiding bruises. Mason said you don't have to know for sure a caretaker or a parent is abusing or neglecting a child to call county child protective service.

"If your spidey sense is tingling, [if] there is something in your gut saying that is not right, you pick up the phone to call child welfare services," Mason said. "You will not be interrogated in the process if you’re doing that in good faith."  

However, Mason said if you fear a child's safety is in immediate danger, you should call 911. 

Click here to learn more about the signs and symptoms of child abuse to watch out for.

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