NEW YORK - Child abuse and neglect hotlines in New York City are taking far fewer calls, but with children at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some child welfare advocates don’t believe that the numbers represent reality.
“You would hope that it’s because child abuse is dropping but I don’t believe that,” said Dr. Mary Pulido, the Executive Director of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. “I believe it’s not being reported because of the pandemic and shelter in place.”
Pulido says that she believes the cases are being underreported because the pandemic has forced the closure of schools and daycares which historically have made the most reports of child abuse.
“Teachers and school personnel have their eyes on the children all the time and they’re able to question them, they build relationships with them,” Pulido said. ‘Well now all of a sudden they’re seeing them through a computer if they’re seeing them.”
A recent article in the New York Times reports that in the first eight weeks of Spring 2019, New York City’s Child Welfare Agency received an average of 1,374 cases of abuse or neglect to investigate each week. In the same period this year, that number was 672, a 51 percent drop.
That concerns pediatricians, who say the lack of office visits is not allowing doctors to detect signs of possible abuse.
“We may notice something on exam that we talk about and we need to report,” said Dr. Sara Siddiqui, a pediatrician with NYU Langone Huntington. “We’re not seeing those patients in our office and they’re not going to the schools so this is extremely concerning.”
Advocates say they believe that in the absence of pediatricians and school personnel, it falls upon the community to act if it believes that a child is in distress.
“We all, friends and neighbors and family, we all have to be the eyes that are looking out for these children,” Pulido said.
Besides the decline in the reporting of abuse and neglect, the pandemic has forced investigators to change how they do their jobs in cases where abuse has in fact been detected.