Schools act as a refuge for many kids in unsafe homes, and unfortunately, that refuge has been taken away for many kids due to virtual learning. Not only can school be a place for kids to escape an unsafe home, but it is also a place where teachers and staff can be made aware of a problem. It is challenging for a child to speak in confidence without a parent around during virtual learning. It is harder for teachers and staff to build trust and a relationship with students, and it is nearly impossible for them to pick up on student’s nonverbal cues that something is wrong.
“Based on the trend over 20 years of tracking cases, tens of thousands of abused children have not come to the attention of authorities during the pandemic,” said Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children’s Alliance (The Washington Post).
By law, teachers and school staff are required to report any suspected child abuse or neglect, which makes them one of the most frequent reporters.
“There are vulnerable kids in America who are trapped at home in unsafe circumstances,” Huizar said. “Even if a child wanted to disclose something, it would be very difficult right now” (ibid).
This leaves children more vulnerable to harm, mental illness, and trauma. Since 2014 there have been over 20,000 kids in out-of-home-care at any given time. In October of 2019, the number reached 23,588 kids. The last reported number in December of 2020 was 22,334. The last time the numbers dropped below 23,000 was in August of 2016. While it is nice to think the decline in numbers over 2020 is due to less abuse and neglect, that is more than likely not the case.
“Calls to child abuse hotlines have decreased nationwide anywhere from 15% to 50% due to school closures — not because abuse cases are decreasing, but because they are not being reported” (Juvenile Justice Information Exchange).
“Reports of child abuse have fallen markedly — not because there is less harmful to children, but because so much goes unreported, experts say” (ibid).
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this problem. It is more important now than ever for teachers to know the signs of trauma and recognize the signals. It is also more important than ever to have mental health resources readily available and easily accessible for students who need them.
The Uyeno Foundation’s mission is to fund initiatives that promote positive mental health through prevention, intervention, treatment, and education. We want to shed light on mental health challenges throughout our nation while focusing on the local community in Southwest Florida.
If you are a teacher or administrator serving in Southwest Florida, please share your positive and proactive thoughts about how we can all work together to improve the students’ lives who are left more vulnerable at home during virtual learning.