April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, which presents a unique situation this year, since so many children are not physically in school.
Mesa County Human Services has seen a decrease in reporting of child abuse, and with School District 51 closing its schools due to the pandemic, teachers are getting less time with students.
“Teachers and counselors and other school staff are prepared to identify potential abuse and neglect signs and then report that to authorities,” said Janet Rowland, Co-chair of “How are the children?” with Mesa County Partnership for Children and Families.
Joe Kellerby, the Division Director of Child Welfare and Adult Protection at Mesa County Human Services said kids trust their teachers.
Joe said the pandemic has impacted abuse reporting, originally getting 20-30 calls per day, “but now we generally are seeing anywhere from 7 to maybe 12 to 13 calls a day, so at times were 50% down.”
Meanwhile, teachers are doing their part in adjusting to this new normal.
“The district is asking that every teacher meet with every student at least three times a week, so some kind of contact with the kids,” said LauraElena Moreno, a 5th grade teacher at Chipeta Elementary.
It’s a tough adjustment.
“Reaching out to all of our families is a lot, getting everybody connected, it’s a lot of time,” said Ms. Moreno.
The Department of Human services is trying to accommodate the lack of structure.
“We are certainly concerned about it, we’re doing what we can to stay in touch with as many people in the community as we can,” said Kellerby.
Despite doing some many follow-ups over the phone, the department is still responding to the needs of the community.
“Make no mistake, we are still responding in child protection and adult protection with face-to-face interviews on new issues of abuse and neglect.” said Kellerby.
The community needs to come together for those at risk, at a time when people are being told to stay home.
“It’s important for people to just pay extra special attention to the kids they come across and just make sure they appear to be safe,” said Rowland.
While Ms. Moreno continues to try to keep a students on a routine.
“I always ask my kids fist to 5, ‘how are you doing?’ you know fist is like, ‘my battery is empty’ and five is like, ‘I’m fully charged and ready to go,’ so those kind of routines that we had in the classroom, we’re all trying our best to keep those going in this virtual learning situation,” said Ms. Moreno.
And with an order of limited contact, its important to keep your eyes and ears open.
“If somebody comes in contact with the child and there’s some unexplained bruises or marks, or some really outlandish stories about how kids are getting these bruises or marks, those are definitely situations where we would need a call, and then certainly the higher, higher end, any issues in regards to sex abuse, any talks about that, any issues with domestic violence,” said Kellerby.
The department asks that you report any possible abuse or neglect to their child abuse hotline, (970) 242-1211.
You can also report abuse, neglect or violence among adults to (970) 248-2888.
For more information, go to the Mesa County Human Services website.