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Ohio Children's Advocates Concerned By Drop In Abuse Reports

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Reports of child abuse in Ohio are down dramatically, but those working in the field say they’re concerned that incidents are actually on the rise and going unreported. Advocates are preparing for a surge of new reports that could come from child care providers, camps and eventually schools as those facilities all open up.

Child abuse reports in Ohio were down by half in March – when schools were shut down – compared to the year before. April's reports were down 45% from a year ago, while May saw reports down 36%.

Kristi Burre, who heads the Office of Children Services Transformation at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said families are struggling with isolation and economic stress – especially those who were already in poverty.

“There's a recognition that for all of us, things have been a bit stressful, and the potential that many of our kids and families in communities across the state are at greater risk, and then that may of course lead to greater risk of child maltreatment," Burre said.

Burre said many of the families that come into the child welfare system need resources and support, and they’re hurting in this economy.

“That decline means there’s potentially more and more families out there that aren’t necessarily with purpose creating danger or harm for their children, but they’re struggling more so than they were before," Burre said.

Burre said agencies are monitoring and sharing data and trying to reach at-risk families with resources and support. And they're also trying to reach families in different ways – for instance, working with non-profits such as food pantries to create "virtual neighborhood connections."

“We’re trying to do a lot of outreach and crisis stabilization, more so and differently than we ever have at a state level," Burre said.

The child welfare system saw a big funding increase last year, but it was underfunded for years.

And Burre said counties are doing this work with less tax revenue coming in from the economic downturn, while vacancies in children services agencies aren't being filled because of hiring freezes.