S.C. child advocates raise concerns over child neglect, abuse reporting during pandemic

How SC's vulnerable children are doing during the pandemic

MYRTLE BEACH, SC. (WMBF) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is calling on school districts across the state to include five days of face-to-face instruction in their plans, saying too many children go unaccounted for otherwise.

As school and elected officials figure out the best ways for kids to return to their academics this fall, child advocacy experts said they’ll adapt as they continue to monitor and advocate for vulnerable children, even through a pandemic.

During the coronavirus pandemic, which has ushered in virtual learning followed by an unorthodox summer, child welfare advocates said some of our most vulnerable may be put at risk, in the absence of more educators, caretakers and other adults to monitor potential neglect or abuse.

Director of the Department of Children’s Advocacy, Amanda Whittle, said normally, reports of child abuse and neglect go down drastically in the summer months. That’s attributed to children not being seen by as many adults with regular contact, such as by those found in schools.

“What ended up happening in March was that those report numbers went down in March like they would have gone in June,” Whittle explained. “So we had a 40 or 50% decrease in the number of reports of child abuse or neglect that were made to [the Department of Social Services].”

But just because reports are down, that doesn’t mean actual rates of abuse or neglect are.

Shortly after schools shut down, DSS launched a centralized phone number to give adults another way to report on potential neglect or abuse during these times of social distancing. Individuals can call the hotline at 888-CARE-4-US upon witnessing or suspecting the existence of a threatening situation to a child.

When it comes to the notion of the push to resume face-to-face instruction versus remaining virtual with instruction, Whittle said there are fears on both sides, creating a balancing test when navigating.

Meanwhile, guardian ad litems - court-appointed volunteers who act in the best interest of children in the court system - have worked to maintain contact virtually with kids, with the help of phone calls and Facetime, for example.

“Obviously it’s not - it’s not preferable to face-to-face,” Whittle said, “But it’s what we’ve had to do.”

Whittle said no matter how school looks this fall, the role of guardian ad litems will remain the same.

“Our role is to maintain contact with those children (who have DSS court cases) and make certain that we’re not missing out on having contact with children,” she said. “And make certain that we’re keeping up with the children that we’re charged with, and that we’re being safe when we make contact with those children.”

One of the perhaps unexpected positives of going virtual, Whittle said, was that it has decreased the amount of time spent traveling for visits or waiting to head into court, and instead allocate that time toward simply monitoring the welfare of children, albeit in a more virtual context.

What may be the most needed resource besides time, however, is volunteers. For more information on how to become a guardian ad litem, you can follow this link.

Copyright 2020 WMBF. All rights reserved.