Educators finding ways to spot signs of abuse, neglect as schooling moves online

Posted at 7:02 PM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-18 20:02:52-05

CINCINNATI — With some schools switching back to remote learning and the coronavirus pandemic continuing to create challenges for families, educators and advocates worry that could increase the risk of child abuse and neglect.

Educators and school staff are the top reporters of child abuse and neglect, but with many districts in remote learning, it can make it even harder for them to spot potential signs of trouble. That’s why the Ohio Departments of Education and Job and Family Services are putting out new resources for school districts.

Jennifer Vargo, the director of Ohio ODE's Office of Integrated Student Supports, said it’s a very difficult time for children, who are “most vulnerable.”

“So first we wanted to equip them with some questions,” Vargo said. “Some signs that they might be able to see remotely that might cue them into looking deeper or asking questions that might further their understanding of what’s happening with children.”

ODE stresses that families going through a tough time might just need a helping hand, and part of the process is to help educators tell the difference between signs of normal stress at home and signs of potential abuse or neglect.

“The more eyes that we can have on children, looking out for their best interest, making sure that they’re safe, and doing that in a supportive way to the family, the better that child is going to be,” Vargo said.

Tim McCartney, the interim director of Hamilton County JFS, said with so many fewer eyes on children during the pandemic, that may go unseen.

“As we go into a next wave of this and people isolate even more, that can be a recipe for disaster for kids in an abusive environment,” McCartney said.

That’s why increased contact is important now more than ever, he said.

“And that doesn’t go just for educators, that goes for family and friends. If you’re concerned about a child in a family, reach out,” he said.

With more people isolating at home and fewer chances to see kids outside of the house, it’s all the more important to be proactive.

“While teachers are doing a great job during the pandemic, it’s just harder,” McCartney said.

The Hamilton County JFS advises teachers and all adults in a child’s life to look for things like changes in behavior, fear of parents or bruises and other physical signs as potential indicators of abuse or neglect. Find more signs of potential abuse or neglect here.

To report concerns, call (513) 241-KIDS (5437).