'I am very worried:' Child neglect, abuse calls down 50% during pandemic

SEATTLE -- Visitation rooms sat empty Thursday inside Olive Crest, a non-profit in Bellevue that helps foster kids.

“Everything we do is based on relationships so when we can’t physically see a child it makes it difficult,” Olive Crest Executive Director Paul LaRose said.

LaRose says social workers are essential so they are still making at home visits when necessary. But due to the dangers of COVID-19 many meetings are now virtual making their critical roles in society that much more difficult.

“I am very worried,” Secretary Ross Hunter said.

Hunter, who is in charge of Washington’s Department of Children, Youth and Family Services says the state would normally get a little less than 1,000 calls per day. Now they are seeing a 50% drop in those calls reporting possible child abuse and neglect.

Hunter says there is no question there are children who are suffering undetected.

“That is correct - what we expect based on great recession and other kinds of interruption to school - is that when school restarts we will get a lot of new information,” Hunter said.

With a large chunk of child-related calls coming from teachers and other school personnel, classroom closures are leading to the drop in calls.

Secretary Hunter is also concerned about domestic violence incidents spiking in our region.

“Those domestic violence scenarios often create child abuse scenarios, the added stress with enormous numbers of people being laid off, economic stress,” Hunter said.

The public can help.

“If there is something you can do as a neighbor do it,” LaRose said.

Also, keep an eye out and report to CPS if you see a child who is malnourished or unhygienic. If you see a young child often unsupervised that is also a red flag.

“Another thing to watch out for, a lot of traffic in and out of a house and apartment during odd times,” LaRose said.

Olive Crest is also calling on more people to become foster families across the state as he anticipates more children entering the system once the stay at home order is lifted.

“A surge and influx of kids coming through the system for the first time and it’s a scary thing to process,” LaRose said.

LaRose says there is a shortage of foster families as it stands now. He says there are 9,000 kids in the foster care system statewide with only 6,000 families.

Olive Crest currently works with 300 foster kids.

You can report cases to CPS by calling 1 866 END-HARM. That hotline is open 24 hours a day.

Hunter says just because you call does not mean a child will be yanked from their home. Many times it leads to assistance to a family in need.

Right now 4,600 employees work for DCYF and social workers are making visits to homes for all initial investigations.

Hunter says he is also stressed about his employees on the frontlines who have to be out there to keep kids safe.