Reports of child abuse fell by about 6 percent in Moore County last year, leaving social workers waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Moore County’s Department of Social Services received 1,268 abuse reports in 2020, down from 1,351 in 2019. Tammy Schrenker, director of the department, said the continuing easement of coronavirus restrictions is likely to bring a “surge” of new cases in the weeks ahead.
“We have some concerns that child abuse and neglect increased during the pandemic, and we haven’t fully seen what that’s going to look like yet,” Schrenker said. “We anticipate that as people get out more and children return to what we consider a more normal lifestyle, our cases are really going to rise because parents don’t call and report themselves.”
The reports, she said, often come from non-family members who work in schools and child care settings. When these places closed or switched to virtual learning to slow the spread of the virus, it became more difficult to detect signs of maltreatment at home.
A study published in the Journal of Public Economics estimates that more than 212,500 allegations of abuse went unreported in the United States from March to April last year. Another study that recently appeared in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect found an “increased proportion of physical child abuse injuries” at a pediatric trauma center during the pandemic.
“This has been a very stressful time for everybody,” Schrenker said. “Some of our families are under financial stress because their jobs may have been affected. People haven’t been able to go many places, so they’ve had no outlets for activities. They have been in close quarters for longer periods of time.”
Child abuse occurs in “all economic categories in all parts of Moore County,” according to Schrenker.
“I think that people sometimes tend to believe that maybe it’s only with some of our families that are in poverty or don’t have the financial resources to support their families, but that is certainly not true,” she said. “It’s important for people to understand that we are in every neighborhood of the county at one time or another.”
On April 6, the Moore County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution declaring April to be Child Abuse Prevention Month. Schrenker’s agency is partnering with the Child Advocacy Center of Moore County to fill a garden with blue pinwheels to raise awareness of the issue.
“The pinwheel is supposed to symbolize the innocence of a child,” said Bunny Critcher, program administrator for Moore County’s Department of Social Services. “It’s meant to instill in people that children deserve hope for their future.”
The department is urging residents to report suspicions of child abuse by calling 910-947-5683. All information can be provided anonymously.
“Someone can make an anonymous report and we’ll screen it, but that doesn’t mean we can necessarily intervene at that time because we have to have enough, statutorily, to enter a person’s life,” Schrenker said. “We’re not a volunteer service, so we have to make sure we have enough information to legally intervene.
“But if someone made a report and we weren’t able to intervene at that time, if they observe another concern they should report it again because that might give us enough to proceed.”