April 19, 2021by Emily Muttillo
Excerpts from the article:
On March 12, 2020, Governor Mike DeWine ordered all schools, public, private and charter, to shut down at the end of the March 16 school day – for about three weeks – through April 3, 2020. This was only the beginning of a much longer stay-at-home order and, unfortunately, home is not a safe haven for many children.
Ohio was the first state in the country to close schools as an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19 and many others quickly followed. Towards the end of the three-week period, cases continued to rise and a public health order from the Ohio Director of Health continued to require all schools to remain closed for the remainder of the school year. During this time, every student was moved into a remote- learning model for the fourth quarter of the school year. A stay-at-home order was also issued for all residents on April 2, 2020, closing businesses and services that were not deemed essential. Many non-essential workers set up home offices and quickly became very familiar with video chat services. Ohioans stayed home and away from each other. For those with safe, comfortable places to live and supportive family environments, being at home was a safe haven from the deadly virus moving quickly through the world.
Closing schools and issuing a stay-at-home order protected the health of many and saved lives from an uncontrolled virus. It was a wholly necessary action to take in the face of COVID-19. [LFC Comment: We are not accepting that as fact!]
In Ohio, the number of abuse and neglect cases has steadily increased each year with more than 200,000 referrals made in 2019.
While necessary, it must also be acknowledged that doing so put some people, including children, in harm’s way. In Ohio, the number of abuse and neglect cases has steadily increased each year with more than 200,000 referrals made in 2019. Most child abuse is perpetrated by parents, relatives or those in relationships with parents or relatives. Being outside of the watchful eyes of other adults – like teachers and other school employees – left a void in the system designed to protect children from abuse and neglect. As the world begins to feel the hope of a post-COVID-19 life made possible by vaccinations, our community must also prepare to face the reality that perhaps thousands of Ohio’s children have experienced abuse or neglect that has gone unreported.
We can use data from the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) that identifies what school model each public school district in the state uses. Coupling this with data pulled from the Ohio Department of Children and Family Services’ (ODCFS) data dashboard, we can begin to assess the possible impact school closings have had on children across the state. All this data has limitations; however, truths can still be gleaned from the data that is available. Looking at four sample counties in Ohio, we see a concerning correlation between remote educational models and a drop in reports of child abuse and neglect.
Excerpt from the report:
“On March 12, 2020, Governor Mike DeWine ordered all schools, public, private and charter, to shut down at the end of the March 16 school day – for about three weeks – through April 3, 2020. This was only the beginning of a much longer stay-at-home order and, unfortunately, home is not a safe haven for many children.”
Child protective services landscape
In 1962, an amendment to the Social Security Act required all states commit to statewide child welfare services, including protective services. The amendment spurred the creation of child abuse reporting laws which were adopted by all 50 states between 1963 and 1967. With these laws in place, systems for reporting and investigating child abuse and neglect were developed throughout the country. Case reporting steadily increased from 1974 when there were about 60,000 cases nationally to 2000 when there were around 3 million cases reported. While systems have evolved over time, statewide mandated child abuse and neglect reporting to child protective services remains.
Case reporting steadily increased from 1974 when there were about 60,000 cases nationally to 2000 when there were around 3 million cases reported.
In Ohio, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) supervises child protective services programs. The programs are administered locally in each of the 88 counties, with 64 programs within local Job and Family Services (JFS) offices and 24 operating independently of JFS. Regardless of the agency administering child protective services, it will accept referrals for suspected child abuse and neglect, investigate allegations and provide interventions to allow a child to be in a safe environment. Reports can be made by anyone and can remain anonymous. In Ohio, mandated reporters include attorneys, audiologists, child care workers, children services personnel, clergy, coroners, dentists, foster parents, nurses, physicians, podiatrists, psychiatrists, school authorities, social workers, speech pathologists and animal control officers. A report released by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in January 2020 found that educators are the top reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect accounting for more than 20 percent of all referrals.
Educators are the top reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect accounting for more than 20 percent of all referrals.
ODFJS provides a dashboard that includes data on child abuse and neglect referrals from each county in the state. Data is available from 2011 to the present. Abuse and neglect referrals have increased across the state over the past 10 years, until 2020. In 2011, 155,236 referrals were made in the state with 53 percent of cases screened in for further investigation. Just under 50,000 more referrals were made in 2019 compared to 2011, with 44 percent of cases requiring investigation. Had the trend of the past nine years continued, close to 200,000 referrals would have been expected in 2020. This however did not happen. In 2020, referrals actually went down by 25,000 from the previous year, representing a 14 percent decrease.
While it has limitations, this analysis suggests that when children returned to the more traditional five-day, in-person education delivery model, suspected cases of abuse and neglect were identified by educators and subsequent referrals increased. In these districts, children who had been trapped in abusive home environments once again had a non-parental or non-custodial adult monitoring for signs of maltreatment. Unfortunately, this could also indicate that children who remained in fully-remote education delivery models were not as closely monitored as their five-day, in-person peers and some may have been subject to ongoing neglect and abuse for nearly a year.
Categories: State of Ohio