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More than 60% drop in calls to child abuse hotline spark safety concerns

The COVID-19 pandemic has blocked children from their normal interactions with other adults and reporting sources which is why the hotline is getting less traffic.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — With a virtual start to the school year underway, Fairfax County is warning some children may be at a higher risk for harm.

The Fairfax County Department of Family Services (DFS) warned it has seen a more than 60% drop in calls to its child protective services (CPS) hotline since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Michael Becketts, Director of DFS, and Oriane Eriksen, Division Director for children, youth and families said the Fairfax County Child Protective Services Hotline averaged approximately 1,000 calls per month before the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Since then, the hotline has seen more than half of the calls disappear.

“We generally get about 1/3 of our CPS reports from the schools and the other major reporting sources – police, mental health counselors and people in the community,” Eriksen said.

The coronavirus pandemic has blocked children from their normal interactions with other adults and reporting sources which is why the hotline is likely getting less traffic, according to DFS.

“We’re always concerned about the health, safety and wellbeing of children in our community,” Becketts stated.

DFS began putting a heavy focus on prevention efforts after concerns over the drop in hotline calls.

The department worked with other agencies across the county to send tip sheets to more than 600,000 with what they can do to keep children safe.

Additionally, DFS established a parent support line and made many of the support services they previously offered virtual.

“The sooner the community can sort of rally around the needs of a child, the more likely the extent of harm is sort of minimized or diminished,” Becketts said.

If something doesn’t look safe, sound safe, or feel safe – report it!

  • Ask open-ended questions – If you suspect abuse of a child you know, be intentional in conversations with them, i.e.:
  • What’s the best part of being home and what’s the worst part of being home?
  • If there was one thing you could change about being home what would it be?
  • It’s a scary time right now in the world, do you feel safe at home?
  • Signs of abuse or neglect – Be on the lookout when interacting with children in person, on the phone, or online for changes in:
    • Behavior – Evasive answers, mood changes, seeming uncomfortable, frightened, or withdrawn
    • Physical appearance – Marks, bruises, changes in weight, hygiene, or attire
    • Supervision – A lack of responsible, age-appropriate supervision
    • Environment – Safety hazards in the home, rodent or insect infestations
    • Engagement – Changes in interaction with others or participation.

“These don’t necessarily mean that there is abuse or neglect. But if you do have concerns, we really encourage you to call," Eriksen said.

Fairfax County stressed the issue is not only local, but it is a problem CPS departments are seeing on the state and national levels.

If you know of a child who may be a victim of abuse or neglect, call the Fairfax County hotline at 703-324-7400.

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