COVID-19’s Hidden Challenge: Spotting Child Abuse When Schools are Closed


This article focused on mandated reporters in a virtual education setting, including creating a “community safety net” to include essential workers who might encounter families outside of schools.


As districts debate e-learning strategies, Victor Vieth, Director of Education and Research at the Zero Abuse Project, says it’s important to remember the way trauma impacts learning.

“Children experiencing trauma … have a hard time concentrating. They don’t get their homework done. They have a harder time gaining [and applying] knowledge,” he explains.

Even in normal learning environments, Rita Farrell, Director of ChildFirst at the Zero Abuse Project, says teachers may not be certain of how to help: “Teachers [are] very passionate about children, and … don’t want to get it wrong.”

Mandated reporter training helps teachers and others to recognize subtler signs of abuse, such as a child’s side comments about yelling, drinking, touching, or inappropriate online contact from someone outside the home.

“Teachers are still seeing kids in a different way, so they might have to look for different signs,” says Jessica Seitz, Director of Public Policy at Missouri KidsFirst.

Training encourages the creation of outlets and opportunities to come forward— what Vieth and Farrell call “a supportive atmosphere,” itself bolstered with boundaries.

Schools’ extensive policies, says Farrell, are already designed for this purpose and can serve as a foundation for online interactions.

For example, principals may not be able to walk the halls and enter classrooms at will, so inviting them to a Zoom class—and recording the session for possible review afterward—can be a good proxy, as can copying another adult on every communication.

Further, says Vieth, “Everybody needs to know the rules, so if a child gets a message at two in the morning, they should know that’s a violation of the rules … and the child [and parent] need to be educated on who [to] report that to.”

Read more at The Crime Report

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