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Georgia experts concerned about child abuse cases going unreported during pandemic

"There may be cases out there where kids are isolated and we’re not getting the reports that would allow us to protect them," said Tom C. Rawlings.

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ga. — Several states including Georgia have reported a drop in the number of child abuse and neglect cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Director of Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services Tom C. Rawlings said he's concerned.

"There may be cases out there where kids are isolated and we’re not getting the reports that would allow us to protect them," said Rawlings.

Rawlings said that suspected child abuse and neglect cases are normally reported by educators, day care personnel, and after-school programs' staff.

He doesn’t think child abuse cases have decreased, but he said the number of reports has decreased. 

After the death of 12-year-old Kaitlyn Yozviak, Mary Chandler of Georgia Bureau of Investigation said if it wasn't for a pandemic, that's forced people into isolation, she might be alive today.

"Our fear has been that this pandemic and the shutdown of that valuable source of information about children's well-being is not there for right now, so I think Mary is right that this is an issue we should be concerned about," said Rawlings.

Many children across the state are enrolled in online classes. Bibb County Schools' Lead Social Worker Angela Solomon said the district trained staff to manage child abuse cases in a virtual setting.

"We have educated on suicidal issues, mental health issues, bullying issues, child abuse issues, and we've asked them to look at the clues such as if a student is not logging on, why isn't that student logging on? If the student is not engaged, why isn't the student not engaged?" said Solomon.

Rainbow House Children's Resource Center in Houston County was the first child advocacy center in the state of Georgia. Executive Director Tanya Zellner said they’re always willing to provide assistance.

"We continue to provide all our services including our child advocacy center, which we're most known for, and that's where children, after they allege they’ve been abused, they come and complete a forensic interview, and we also accompany them to court and provide counseling," said Zellner.

Some of the warning signs of child abuse are behavioral changes, poor hygiene, and unexplained injuries.

If you suspect a child is dealing with abuse or neglect, you can contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453. You can also reach them online at childhelp.org.

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