DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – As students head back to school, child advocates are bracing for what they call an avalanche of abuse reports.
The silver lining is those reports result in rescued kids.
And the situation is even more dire with physical abuse worsening during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“The number of child abuse investigations, homicide investigations, in the state went up 50% during the third quarter of this year, compared to the third quarter of last year,” says Lynn Davis, President and CEO of the Dallas Child Advocacy Center, “and that’s alarming to us.”
Davis says abuse reports dropped sharply when the coronavirus outbreak forced schools to close in the spring.
Teachers are often the only trusted adult in a child’s life and provide refuge from families who are abusive. They are also legally required to report suspicions of abuse.
As schools reopen, Davis says the agency is preparing for a 30% increase in cases, but those reports can come from anywhere.
“If you’re out at the grocery store and you see something that just doesn’t feel right, you have to act,” says Davis. “Make a report. You don’t have to know that abuse is happening. Make a report so experts can get in there and see if something’s going on.”
Davis says it was no question that the agency would move forward with its annual Crimes Against Children Conference.
COVID-19 concerns forced the event to go virtual this year, but the conference last week was still filled with powerful voices, like Mesquite child abuse detective Timothy Rountree.
Rountree carries a badge, but he also carries scars.
“I’m not only a detective, I am a survivor,” shares Rountree.
The abuse started when he was a toddler in a home based daycare. He made an outcry to his parents, when he was 9. ”
They did an amazing job of believing me, and supporting me,” says Rountree.
Ironically, he now works in the same unit that years ago investigated his case.
He says the experience allows him to connect with young abuse victims in a different way.
As for parents, he says there is nothing worse than being abused, and then not believed, so his advice is, “Believe and support.”
Rountree says it’s also important for parents to constantly talk to their children about everything.
Families who can talk over even small issues, like a bad day at school, will have laid the groundwork for communicating about everything else.
Meanwhile, Davis says his staffers try not to think about the abuse that has gone unreported while children were not interacting with teachers and camps and typical activities. They’re encouraging everyone– from grocery store clerks to delivery drivers and neighbors– to get involved.
“It’s a difficult time for everybody,” says Davis. “It’s time for everybody to step up, step up in a different way. Keeping your eyes and ears open.”
And we have seen, nosy neighbor advocacy save lives.
He told police the abuse started after schools were shut down in the spring. His grandmother and her boyfriend were arrested.
“And we know that child is safe today, because that community member got involved,” says Davis.
Free online training on how to spot abuse can be found on the advocacy center website.
“Keep your eyes and ears open. You never know when you’re going to save a life.”