April was National Child Abuse Prevention Month. As a country, we have come a long way in dealing with the issues of child abuse. We, of course, still have further to go. The birth of our modern child safety services can be found in the case of Mary Ellen Wilson. In 1874, New York child abuse laws were scant and not enforced. Ten year old Mary was beaten, burned and whipped daily by her adoptive family. She told the court that she had never felt a loving touch from anyone in her entire life. After a concerned neighbor contacted local authorities to no avail, she elicited the aid of a well known animal rights activist, Henry Bergh. It was through Bergh’s connections within the court system that there was finally some type of justice for Mary. She was removed from her home and placed in a safer one. This case received substantial media attention and started the movement toward our current system.
In this modern age, we have systems in place where all reports of child abuse are taken seriously and investigated. In 2019, the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) investigated over 203,000 reports of child abuse and/or neglect. For seven years, I investigated some of these in a law enforcement capacity and they could be incredibly rewarding, but also incredibly disheartening. Over that time, I made an observation. Abuse reports usually declined in June and July. This of course coincides with the regular school calendar.
I decided to actually look at some number instead of just making assumptions. DCS has a child abuse reporting hotline (the number is 1-800-800-5556; if you need it, please use it). In May of 2019, the hotline received 18,702 phone calls. In June they received 13,561 and in July it was 13,918. In August, the hotline received 18,216 calls. When analyzing these numbers you can see that during June and July of 2019 (when school was out) there was more than a 25% drop in calls to the child abuse hotline. In March of this year the amount of calls to the hotline dropped approximately 14% from February, and school was only out for half of the month. What can we extrapolate from this data? One possible conclusion is that children are abused less when school is out. This data is of course correlative and not casual, but I think most would agree that this is not a likely conclusion. The more probable conclusion to be made from the above data is that children are abused at the same rate during non-school months, but it is not being reported at the same rate. These kids are simply suffering alone and without a voice.
When a child attends a school in which they feel comfortable and safe, they will talk. When they are at a school with staff that are trained to recognize the warning signs of abuse, there will be an intervention. The results of this intervention will often be a disclosure of abuse by the child.
All school personnel are mandatory reporters. This means that if a child discloses abuse or a staff member believes that there is evidence of abuse they have to, by law, report it to the DCS. Therefore, while children are in school, reports to the hotline increase.
Previously, schools have only been out for approximately two months during the summer. With the current pandemic schools will be physically out of session for at least five months, possibly more. In years past an abused child was isolated in that abusive environment for only two months. This year they will swim in it for five!
What are the long-term effects of three additional months of unaddressed abuse? We likely will not know for several years, but I’m sure we can all agree that it will most likely not be a positive one. How can our schools help address some of these issues?
School systems play a vital role in servicing our community in a multitude of ways. They are a logical conduit for social services because of the number of citizens they have contact with. Many of the services that they provide are often overlooked. The schools are the best source of food for many underprivileged youth. Even now, with New Albany Floyd County Schools (NAFCS) out of session, they are sponsoring food distribution pickups that service these children. NAFCS social workers are still reaching out directly into the community to help students and their families even though they are not physically in the building. These social workers help struggling children and their families find the resources they need to survive in our current environment.
Of course, the obvious service provided by our schools is education. The schools help shape the workers and voters of tomorrow. When kids are in a safe educational environment their parents can focus on working. When parents are working, our country is moving. The economy and our school system are codependent.
It is unclear exactly what the long-term emotional ramifications of this national economic and social slumber will be. Let’s be clear, the effects will be worse for some than others. We should not fall into the fallacy of thinking that everyone will experience things in the same way. I would like our schools to be ready to handle the challenges that will arise from these historic times we are currently navigating.
Our current situation has made it clear that we do not know what the future holds. The only thing we can do now, is prepare. If we are willing to provide NAFCS with the tools they need to meet these challenges, I have no doubt they will exceed our expectations. NAFCS, like all school systems, holds the future of our community in their hands.
It is up to the community to help them carry the burden of this benevolent job. Where will we be in 25 years if we do not provide them these tools? Let’s give our children all the resources possible to help them succeed. Children like Mary Ellen Wilson deserve it. We owe it to them. Having numerous avenues leading toward success is always better than not having enough.
I am voting yes to the School Safety Referendum that is currently on the ballot in Floyd County. It will help provide pathways to a bright future for all of us. I am voting yes to investing in the community I have lived in for more than 30 years. I hope you do so as well. Voting is now open via absentee ballot. The County Clerk’s office can assist you in obtaining a ballot or you can vote in person on June 2nd. Thank you.