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State Officials Concerned About Decrease in Calls to Child Abuse Hotline

Child protection staff committed to helping families through challenging COVID-19 emergency

Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) officials are concerned about a sharp decrease in the number of calls to the child abuse and neglect hotline in the past several weeks related to the current COVID-19 emergency.

DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan said from March 8-14, the week prior to the required closure of public schools, a total of 765 calls a week were being made to the hotline at 1-866-820-KIDS (5437). However, since March 15 the number of calls made to the hotline has dropped to an average of 425 calls per week.

"This decrease in calls is very concerning because teachers and school staff are mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect, and we know they are one of the main sources of calls to the hotline," Hogan said. "With schools closed, it's important for all us to take an active role by calling the hotline if you suspect abuse or neglect."

On March 15, Governor Steve Bullock issued a set of directives and guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect vulnerable Montanans, including closing of public K-12 schools.

"Now is when we really need the entire community, no matter if one is a mandatory reporter or not, to really watch out for our kids," Hogan said.

However, beyond calling the hotline, it's also important for Montanans to reach out to their family, friends and neighbors who might be struggling right now due stress caused by social isolation, parenting stress, and financial uncertainty. Child welfare experts know that stress of this nature can lead to child abuse, so it's important to reach out now to prevent abuse from happening in the first place.

"We know that many families are feeling overwhelmed," Hogan said. "Even though we can't connect in person right now, I urge everyone to reach out to your family, friends, and neighbors through technology, or just simply pick up the phone. If someone is struggling, urge them to ask for help if they need it by talking to a close a friend or relative, a local community provider they've been in contact with before, law enforcement, home visitor or a CFSD caseworker to request assistance. There are services in the community that can help."

Hogan said even with the current social distancing requirements in place to limit the spread of coronavirus, child protection specialists continue to provide services for families on their caseload. And, as required by law, they also continue to investigate reports of child abuse and neglect that are reported to the hotline.

The primary adjustment made as a result of COVID-19 is that family visitations are being made using Skype or Facetime. If those aren't viable options, CFSD staff work with families to hold visitations that conform to the current health and safety recommendations.

Hogan said she's proud of CFSD workers for their continued efforts to help strengthen families amidst the current challenges and for their efforts being made to help their local communities. For example, in Glasgow, CFSD staff have teamed up with the Glasgow Public Schools to deliver 60 lunches a day to children in surrounding rural areas of the community.


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