DSS wants neighbors to be vigilant after agency sees decrease in child abuse referrals

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COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA)- The South Carolina Department of Social Services say the agency is receiving less child abuse referrals now during the coronavirus crisis than in previous months or years.
South Carolina teachers are mandatory reporters of child abuse, but now that kids are home from school they’re also out of their teachers watch, which is why DSS says the number of child abuse referrals has decreased.

For thousands of South Carolina students school is more than just a place of learning. It’s a guaranteed meal and safe haven because SC teachers are mandatory reporters of child abuse.

“Teachers love and care about their children and are the eyes and ears and want to make sure they’re protected,” explained Michael Leach, the director of SC DSS.

But with schools closed DSS has seen a decrease in those referrals because students are no longer in their teacher’s physical presence.

Tim Waller with the Greenville County Schools explained how that face to face contact is so crucial in identifying child abuse. “We knew we would be losing the ability to observe students visually, see how they’re doing, what they look like, what their demeanor is on a day to day basis.”

In response, school districts across the state are trying to get creative to make sure those high risk students don’t fly under the radar.

Waller continued, “If a classroom teacher reports that a student is doing well, or they’re having difficulty or something doesn’t sound right guidance counselors are reaching out to them and having conversations. In some cases sending the ombudsman out to make sure everything is ok.”

DSS says with those mandatory reporters having less contact it’s even more important for neighbors to be vigilant.

“So we’re talking about added parental stress of having to manage many roles. we have a huge increase in the number of folks that are unemployed or not working and those are both risk factors for abuse and neglect and they’re heightened during this pandemic,” added Director Leach.

DSS says it’s seen a 39% decrease in the number of child abuse referrals from this time last year and a 25% increase in March from February.

The department sees an average of 80,000 referrals each year.

Greenville County Schools is also using virtual learning to connect school counselors with students to continue session even though school is out.

If you know of a child that may be struggling during this time click HERE.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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