Advocates fear cases of child abuse, neglect could go up with kids isolated at home

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CHICAGO — The job of keeping children safe is becoming even more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, and child advocates fear neglect and abuse cases could soon go up.

For the last two weeks, Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services has been adjusting the way it keeps a watchful eye on abuse and neglect.  

They’ve now released numbers from their abuse hotline center, indicating that 10 days ago, 6,051 calls came in. But as of Sunday, that number dropped by nearly half to 3,454.  

You would think that’s good news, right? But it’s not the case.  

James McIntyre, a Mission Outreach Associate for Court Appointed Special Advocates, says the drop is “simply because they don’t have someone to report” to because of the shelter in place order. He says right now, much of the outreach is being done remotely. 

“85 percent of our cases are handled by private agencies so you can imagine most of our agencies have moved in that direction,” McIntyre said.

That’s where Illinois Public Guardian Charles Golbert comes in.  Although he agrees with the way DCFS is handling the check-in guidelines because of the pandemic, it’s still not the same, he said.  He fears the new hotline numbers don’t accurately portray what’s really happening.    

“In person you can pick up on body cues a lot better, not somebody in the next room whispering what to say to a child,” he said.

The remote check-ins will have to do for now, but he’s hoping the public will step up and keep a watchful eye on potential cases of abuse.  

“You can no longer assume that if a child is being abused that someone knows about it.  The public has to step up when you have reason to believe that a child is in danger,” he said.

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