Monday, September 20, 2021

State concerned about fewer child-abuse calls

by Daily Inter Lake
| April 7, 2020 1:00 AM

A sharp decrease in the number of calls to Montana’s child abuse and neglect hotline has officials with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services very concerned.

A press release issued Monday states the decline is due to the coronavirus outbreak. When Gov. Steve Bullock announced the closure of public schools a few weeks ago, some of the hotline’s mandatory callers — teachers and school staff — were required to work from home and away from children.

Prior to the closure, the hotline was receiving about 765 calls per week. But since March 15, when the closure order went into effect, the number of calls made to the hotline has dropped to an average of 425 calls per week, according to the press release.

“This decrease in calls is very concerning because teachers and school staff are mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect, and we know they are one of the main sources of calls to the hotline,” said Sheila Hogan, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services. “With schools closed, it’s important for all of us to take an active role by calling the hotline if you suspect abuse or neglect.”

Hogan called on Montanans to be extra aware of their family, friends and neighbors while schools remain closed. According to the press release, child welfare experts say the stress that comes with social isolation, financial uncertainty and more can lead to child abuse.

“We know that many families are feeling overwhelmed,” Hogan said. “If someone is struggling, urge them to ask for help if they need it by talking to a close friend or relative, a local community provider they’ve been in contact with before, law enforcement, home visitor of CFSD (child and family services division) caseworker to request assistance.”

Child protection specialists are considered “essential” and continue to provide services for families on their individual caseloads. And, as required by law, they also continue to investigate reports of child abuse and neglect that are reported to the hotline.

Montana’s child abuse and neglect hotline can be reached at 1-866-820-5437.