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After schools closed, child abuse referrals slowed

Teachers account for one out of every five child abuse referrals nationwide. Now that kids aren't in the classroom, they need their guardian angels more than ever.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — While many are urging people to "Stay Home, Stay Safe," county records show children may be less safe today than they were at the beginning of this month.

Mecklenburg County child abuse and neglect referrals reveal a drastic drop in referrals over the last two weeks.

“With children being home with their parents, we’ve seen a considerable drop,” Mecklenburg County Youth and Family Services Division Director Charles Bradley said. “They’re not in school. They’re not visible to professionals who would otherwise see any concerns.”

Compared to this same time frame last year, records show Mecklenburg County has received 280 fewer child abuse and neglect referrals, which is the equivalent of 21 fewer every day now that kids and their guardian angels aren’t in the classroom.

Teachers account for one out of every five child abuse and neglect referrals nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“They’re really on the front lines of identifying child abuse and neglect,” Bradley said

In the last two weeks, the county’s experienced a 40% drop in referrals with just 427 referrals since March 15 compared to 711 during the same period last year, according to county records.

“It does not mean that there has not been abuse and neglect,” Bradley said. “It’s just not been brought to our attention.”

Union County records show referrals dropped off in the last two weeks there too.

Couple that with fewer people reporting the crime with anxiety at home related to the current pandemic -- advocates fear there's added danger to children.

“Due to COVID-19 and school closures, parents and caregivers will be increasingly stressed and financially burdened,” Meck4Kids, a group of child-serving organizations and people, said on Instagram Monday. “That means child abuse prevention is more important than ever.”

Bradley said the community’s role in prevention is critical.

“If there’s a family that you’re aware of in your neighborhood or your community, that you’re concerned about, if you see a family that’s struggling and you have a concern, the best thing you can do is to make that situation known to our department,” he said.

Mecklenburg County’s 24/7 child abuse and neglect hotline is (980) 314-3577 or (980) 31-HELPS

The Greater Charlotte Hope Line is also available 24/7 to help with parenting support, sexual assault and domestic violence at (980) 771-4673.

When kids eventually return to school, Bradley expects a surge of new abuse referrals. He said about 20% of all referrals turn out to be justified complaints.

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