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Child abuse reporting declines in Arizona, but advocates believe it's increasing

Posted at 10:40 PM, May 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-15 01:40:00-04

The pandemic has caused unexpected ripple effects across Arizona. A new area of concern is unreported child abuse and neglect.

Hotline calls to the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) were down roughly 25 percent in April.

"I've talked to my peers around the country who seen as much as 45 percent reductions," said AZ DCS Director Mike Faust.

For more than eight weeks, there's been anxiety, empty classrooms, and no escape for kids and families stuck in quarantine together.

"Everyone's patience gets challenged," said Faust.

"All of these stresses, it's a really bad recipe," said Torrie Taj, CEO of Child Crisis Arizona.

This can be what many would describe as a recipe for physically injured, emotionally abused and psychologically damaged children. Advocates believe child abuse is increasing right now, alongside substance abuse, unemployment, and domestic violence.

While abuse is likely increasing behind closed doors, the reports are trending in the other direction.

"Hotline calls are down roughly 25 percent over this time last year. Typically we get 4,000 reports a month. In April we got 3,000 reports," said Faust. "Teachers play a very important role."

"They're noticing different behaviors. They're seeing bruises," said Taj. "The safety-net is other adults to do the reporting, it's typically not the family members...If they're not seeing other safe adults, that's a problem."

In 2019, DCS had 98,864 mandated reporters call in to report abuse or neglect, which represented 65 percent of all calls received.

Child advocates say its incumbent on all of us to be the eyes and ears of the mandated reporters that are no longer in close proximity to the children.
That means being on the lookout for any signs of physical harm or neglect, and reporting it right away to the Arizona DCS hotline at 1-888-767-2445.

"We can look to see if kids are timid, do they have marks on their faces? Little things like that," said Faust.

DCS is hoping the abuse does not take months to come to light, but they are already expecting an influx of reporting once school starts back up.

"The hotlines are going to be flooded," said Taj.

"I think we're going to see a prevalence of reports come August 3 when school reopens. We are preparing for it, we're discussing it now," said Faust.

Taj is also hoping to prepare foster families for the post-quarantine spike.

"There's going to be a surge, and there's not going to be enough space," she said. "So we definitely need more families."

While COVID feels like it has changed everything, some things remain the same.

"Kids always need our help," said Faust.

Foster family training is currently happening online.
While some people are pulling back on plans to foster, due to COVID, people must step up to help care for kids in need - especially because some group homes and shelters are shutting down due to the coronavirus.

DCS is also still working around the clock to care for kids, visiting up to 120 homes each day to investigate possible abuse or neglect. Last month alone, 720 kids entered DCS care, according to Faust.

"Keeping kids safe is our number one priority," he said. "I treat and act as if these 14,200 children and youth are my children."

To learn more about what abuse and neglect look like, how to report, and how to get help if you feel you can no longer safely care for your children click here.

You can learn more about fostering through Child Crisis Arizona here: