Reports of child abuse have plummeted during the pandemic; why experts think this will change quickly

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The CornerHouse Children’s Advocacy Center announced Thursday plans to expand facilities and services outside of Hennepin County to respond to an expected increase in reports of child abuse.

One of the things CornerHouse does is conduct forensic interviews of alleged victims of child abuse for law enforcement.

“And we’re here for them to share their experience and then to support them and their families,” said Mitzi Hobot, executive director of CornerHouse.

According to Hobot, between 2015 and 2019, Minnesota averaged 37,629 child abuse reports per year. When the pandemic hit, she and other experts feared reports of child abuse would decline.

“Unfortunately what we’ve seen is reporting rates have dropped by just over 14,000 in 2020 alone,” Hobot said. “And so we don’t have the numbers for 2021 yet, but that was an amazing achievement.”

That’s a 37% drop in reported cases of child abuse. Additionally, before the pandemic, Hobot said 8 to 15 children died each year from child abuse in Minnesota. They have no idea what has happened in the past two years.

“Well, it all stopped right away,” she said. “And so you had the closure of child protective services. The children were not at school. And you know, with no one to talk to and the world shutting down, nobody knew what was happening to the kids.

She expects reports of child abuse to increase dramatically because children reconnect with the community and reconnect with schools. CornerHouse wants to be prepared for this.

Rachel Alexander is the Child and Family Advocacy Manager at CornerHouse. They started using a new trauma screening tool.

“This tool is used to identify where their biggest symptoms or possible symptoms of trauma are,” Alexander said. “So it could be around sleeping and eating. It could be a matter of concentration. And then it’s also about actually assessing suicidal ideation.

Alexander noticed specific behaviors among abuse victims coming out of the pandemic.

“We see a lot of kids hurting themselves or wanting to hurt themselves or not wanting to live anymore,” she said. “And that’s a huge thing that we want to talk about and assess and provide the security and support to know that they’re not alone. They feel like they have nowhere to go or no one else on who to lean on, as they might be really confined to their home where their abuser may be living.

She adds that many parents have no idea their children are being abused. “I would say the majority of parents who come in, who I talk to, say they blame themselves or blame themselves and say, ‘Why didn’t I see this sooner? “”

CornerHouse has also just started offering prevention education. Jane Straub is Director of Training.

“We’d like to talk to parents,” Straub said. “We would like to speak to educators, any organization serving young people, anyone who works with children who comes into contact with children. We just want people to understand that if you have kids coming through your door, we want you to identify troubled kids. And we also want you to look like an organization and say, “What am I doing to keep kids safe? »

Straub wants everyone to be able to identify child abuse.

“We talk about any change in behavior. If there was a child who was very outgoing and for some reason that changed. Appearance changes. Changes in sleep patterns. Changes in substance use, maybe their grades have changed,” she said. “And that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s abuse, but there’s something going on with this child. And this is also part of prevention. We want people to care about children, whether it’s abuse or that child is just going through something and needs the support of a safe adult.

Straub is very concerned about what children do online. “Their screen time has increased tremendously,” she said. “And when we look at online predators or exploitation, that’s another thing we want adults to look at. It’s just a huge risk factor for children of all ages, even our teenagers. Children are curious. They are curious about their bodies. They are curious about things online. They are curious about so many things and we want them to come to us as parents or carers because they will go somewhere to get their questions answered.

CornerHouse now plans to expand child and family services outside of Hennepin County. They announced a campaign to raise $1.2 million.

“And that would allow us to consolidate our locations,” Hobot said. “This would allow us to provide at least 300 additional forensic interviews each year; right now we can only serve 500. We would be able to expand our prevention services. Hennepin County accounts for approximately 20-25% of cases statewide, but we know that other counties in the metro area do not have child advocacy centers to rely on for such essential services. We need to grow because we need to serve more children. There are so many other children who need us.

Currently, two bills supporting CornerHouse are making their way through the state legislature. One is for construction, the other for extending services, mainly prevention. Hobot hopes they will receive bipartisan support.

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