Child abuse hotline calls are down during COVID-19, but abuse fears are up

By Dr. Kelly Callahan and Dr. ChrisAnna Mink

James, a gregarious, rambunctious 8-year-old, ended up at the Harbor-UCLA KIDS Hub Clinic in early March for an evaluation of suspected physical abuse, shortly before schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A call from his teacher uncovered the abuse and likely rescued James and his family from further harm. (His name has been changed to protect his privacy.)

But that may not be happening for other families. Calls to the hotline of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) have plummeted since schools were closed due to the pandemic.

“We have seen a dramatic decline in the number of calls coming into the child protection hotline,” said Roberta Medina, deputy director of DCFS, via email. “With recent closures of schools and non-essential businesses, this safety net is no longer there.”

Since school shuttered, calls to DCFS have dropped by 50%, according to Medina. At the same time last year, the hotline received about 800 to 1,000 calls daily, compared to about 400 per day since the closures.

Medina said that county law enforcement has also seen a nearly 20% decline in electronic reports, which are allegations of suspected abuse reported electronically to the 47 law enforcement agencies in the county.

“This decline in calls is unprecedented for Los Angeles County,” said Medina, “We are seeing similar trends across the state of California.”

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