The Silent Pandemic: Child abuse trends during quarantine

Updated: Jun. 18, 2020 at 10:41 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - There is evidence the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed a new kind of victim in Lubbock County. Experts are predicting that a major decrease in reported child abuse is actually a sign of an alarming spike in cases here.

It has been more than two months since Lubbock’s stay at home order was put into effect. During that time, Lubbock saw a 50% decrease in reported child abuse cases compared to the same time last year.

However, experts say the numbers are deceiving, and in reality, are evidence of a bigger problem to come.

“As children enter the foster care system, it’s our obligation to find placement for them, to try to find the best homes for them, to try to increase the capacity here to meet the needs of the children that we are receiving in this region,” said Cristian Garcia, Regional Vice President of St. Francis Ministries.

In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 11 which essentially privatized portions of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. For region one, which covers 41 counties, including Lubbock, the lead community based provider is St. Francis, led by Garcia.

“A community based provider, right, somebody who’s working with the community who’s working in the community can have ultimate success because they’re not really working with much red tape there,” added Garcia, ”This is our busy season.”

While that may be the trend St. Francis usually sees, “This is when teachers and nurses and YWCA directors start calling intakes,” Garcia said. But that this year, things were different.

“We’re used to peaks and valleys on when cases are filed and when the low points of the year are. But we’ve never seen anything like this, where the kids are home this long,” said Associate Judge, Kara Darnell, in the Lubbock County Child Protection Court. Darnell is familiar with the cycle of child abuse and reporting as she sees as many as five new cases a week.

Darnell says the environmental factors that contribute to child abuse are all present: “We’re cooped up, we’re not at work, we’re at home with our children and we’re stressed out about money. That’s a recipe for child abuse and domestic violence in general.”

The statistics provided by both St. Francis and the Lubbock Police Department show a decrease in reporting during quarantine.

Reported Child Abuse CasesSt. Francis 2020LPD 2019LPD 2020

“We’ve seen a 55% decrease in new kids coming into the foster care system,” Garcia said.

But, does that mean there is in fact less abuse?

“It’s common to come back after that Christmas break to see an influx at that point. It’s common to come back after the summer and right into that first of the school year type situation, so we see a lot more filings during that time period,” Darnell said.

So, what should we expect in the months to come?

“Just in forecasting, we know it’s going to be a large number. If we have a 41% decrease in intakes, you can expect about a 20% to 30% increase,” Garcia said.

Both Darnell and Garcia say the community needs to be aware of the problem.

“Where people are back to work, people are back in school, things start to resemble what they used to look like. I think when that point hits us, we’re really going to need to be prepared,” Darnell said.

“We’re going to see what this pandemic has caused in the next three to six months,” Garcia said.

So, our investigates team asked, aside from awareness, what can the community do?

“We really need a whole lot more foster homes in this area. Too many of our children are being taken to Dallas and Houston and all of these other big cities,” Darnell said.

“The best thing to think about though is these are our kids, right? This is our community. Let’s try to wrap around and support the best way we can. And that’s what St. Francis is trying to do,” Garcia said.

If you are interested in learning more about working with St. Francis, or becoming a foster parent, click here.

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