Colorado officials call reduction in child abuse hotline calls during COVID-19 pandemic ‘concerning’

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) — The director of Colorado’s Office of Children, Youth and Families, says fewer people have been calling to report child abuse and neglect since the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools and other family services in the state.

“It’s concerning,” said Minna Castillo Cohen, who said mandatory reporters like educators and nurses account for a large portion of the calls that come into the call center. The calls, she said, are down by more than 1/3 from this same time last year. Teachers and caregivers aren’t seeing children as often.

“There’s a natural dip when school let’s out — let’s say for a school break like spring break — but what we’re concerned about is we’re seeing this significant drop in the number of calls,” she said.

Castillo Cohen said there were 4,839 calls between March 2, 2020 and March 6, 2020. Last week, however, there were only 2,435 calls.

“We know that there are children and teens that are experiencing abuse and neglect in their home, and they’re isolated and alone all day and don’t have adults outside of their home that are able to keep an eye on them who can advocate for them,” she said.

The state is continuing to conduct investigations and assessments – including face-to-face visits – according to state statute. 

Castillo Cohen said the state is prioritizing cases in which a child’s safety is at risk.

Many of the calls that come into the hotline do not involve actual abuse. Some involve cases of poverty that only look like neglect. However, Castillo Cohen said this can be a vulnerable time for children. She encourages the community to “really keep an eye out for kids in your family and your neighborhood.”

“We encourage the community to stay connected – via phone or online – with families who may be struggling and offer support for them and their children in any way we can,” said Heather Burke, a spokesperson for the city of Denver Department of Human Services.

Burke said Denver is seeing a “direct correlation” between the number of hotline calls and the closure of schools due to efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Our child welfare staff is fully equipped to continue to respond to any reports of suspected child abuse or neglect,” she said.

Burke said the Denver DHS hotline calls for this month started at 597 during the first week. The third week, however, the number of calls dropped to 332.

This is the hotline: 1-844-CO-4-KIDS (1-844-264-5437)

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