Child abuse, neglect reports decreasing during COVID-19 due to lack of tip calls

Keeping children safe is their mission and responsibility - but how can they make sure that's happening during this pandemic? 

Senior Deputy Director for the Children Services Agency with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Jooyeun Chang says the state usually gets about 500 to 1,000 calls per day - but since the stay-at-home order began they've seen a 50 percent drop.

"Schools and educators are one of our primary reporting sources. There are just fewer eyes able to make sure that children are safe and doing well," Chang said. 

The agency has also decreased staff by 80 percent. Chang says there's usually about 1,500 investigators working with families but now there's only about 350, and unfortunately, the number of children leaving foster care has also declined.

"Sometimes it is a necessary intervention but it is very serious and often can be itself a traumatic experience for children."

The agency, usually a responsive and reactive system, is now trying not to rely on calls and to be more proactive. They're reaching out more often to roughly 13,000 families to offer support and resources.

"We're giving them a warm, real person on the other end on that phone line who can help connect them to necessary services and support, and we hope that will prevent children from having to come into the foster care system."

As routines are being interrupted many problems are amplified by the lockdown. 

Chang says the agency is working with state and local courts to push through emergency removal orders. They're also working to get about 500 children who were expected to go home before this pandemic back with their families in the next 30 days.

"One of the saddest things that happens with COVID-19 and the stay-at-home is we had to dramatically decrease the number of face-to-face visits that children can have with her parents."

And while it may be even more difficult right now to spot signs of abuse or neglect, Chang says neighbors, family members and friends shouldn't hesitate to call.

"We all have an important role to play."

The abuse and neglect hotline is (855) 444-3911.