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Experts predict rise in child abuse reports in Chatham Co.

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 11:05 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - With the new school year just around the corner, local child advocates say reports of child abuse or neglect are expected to pick up in Chatham County.

Advocates say that is because kids will be back in school in person where mandated reporters like teachers can report signs of abuse they see in the classroom, without having to look through a computer screen.

The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System believes having kids in person for a full week will have a major impact on abuse reporting. Coastal Children’s Advocacy Center says there are 138 reported cases of child abuse in the county now, but they are expecting that to spike once school begins.

“We definitely plan on seeing a spike in numbers when school comes back,” said Alexis Mack, therapist and forensic interviewer for Coastal Children’s Advocacy Center.

In less than a week, school bells are ringing for thousands of Savannah-Chatham students. With students being back in person, advocacy agencies like Coastal Children’s Advocacy Center and therapist Alexis Mack are on alert for reports of child abuse or neglect.

“Not only do kids report to teachers but they report to students so that is why it is important to be around those people five times a week.”

In 2020, Coastal Children’s Advocacy Center says there were 235 cases of abuse. So far, there have been 138 cases this year.

SCCPSS says the pandemic did not help when it came to reporting possible cases of abuse.

“Being in a hybrid model or virtual model made it a bit more difficult, because we did not have our children to ask those probing questions to get clarifying answers to things we may have assumed. It was all that we seen or thought we had seen on camera,” said Dr. Quentina Miller-Fields, SCCPSS.

Dr. Quentina Miller-Fields believes being in person for the new year will allow them to ask more questions and do some more digging face to face.

“Sometimes we are not looking for the obvious things. Sometimes it is what is not obvious,” said Dr. Quentina Miller-Fields.

Mack says mandated reporters and families need to keep a look out for possible signs like anger, depression, withdrawal, isolation and more.

“It is not an indicator of abuse however it is an indicator something is wrong or there might be some stress in a child’s life. It might not lead to abuse but it might lead to an open conversation that you can have with your child,” said Mack.

The district says teachers and other mandated reporters in the district go through mandated reporter training on an annual basis.

Coastal Children’s Advocacy Center also has resources for reporters and families.

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