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Child abuse reports could rise with school reopenings

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A local researcher is pushing for schools to reopen before the summer break not for students’ academic or social benefit, but for their safety.

Andrew Campbell’s research was recently cited by the CDC in its recommendation to reopen schools. He says schools play an essential role in detecting domestic violence.

“The risk for abuse is about as high as its been, at least as far as I’ve been alive,” said Campbell. “When we look at who reports child abuse across the U.S., 25 percent of reports of substantiated abuse comes from schools.”

Campbell is quick to say sheltering in place was important to contain COVID-19 but that it increased personal stress through isolation. That’s a risk factor for home violence but also a deterrent for people to report violence. He says victims often wait for their family member to leave the house to make a report, or they wait until they know they can secure some time away from them. That wasn’t happening for Indiana’s mandatory six-week lockdown and months of restrictions afterwards.

“We saw an increase in calls right before lockdown orders were enacted. I think that was victims knowing and they did tell me, that they wouldn’t survive a lockdown,” Campbell said. “Unfortunately when orders enacted, most phones went dead. Which is an eerie feeling in this field.”

Campbell says as schools closed, so did teachers’ opportunity to spot a bruise or listen to a plea for help. He says schools need to reopen to give kids a chance to reach out.

“School is their one reprieve for abuse. And so again, once kids feel sure that they’re going to continue in that environment, that it will not be taken away from them again, hopefully they’ll be more comfortable disclose what may have happened during lockdown,” he said.

Campbell says it’s not just teachers who can help. Other family members, neighbors, even mail carriers, garbage collectors, and home repair workers can spot abuse. In fact, several of those workers were still entering homes and spending time in neighborhoods during the pandemic.

Campbell does warn then when schools reopen, social services may be overwhelmed with new cases. He says the situation is similar to the aftermath of a natural disaster, when domestic violence reports increase.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault, call 211 for help and 911 in an emergency.

For those in Indianapolis, help is available 24/7 through the Coburn Place by calling 317-923-5750 or texting 317-864-0832 and the Julian Center by calling 317-902-9320.

Anyone in Indiana can call the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 800-332-7385.

If you are aware of animal abuse in Indianapolis, call Indianapolis Animal Care Services at 317-327-4622.