Calls to the state child abuse and neglect hotline have dropped by about half since schools closed their doors in mid-March due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services said the hotline received a little over half of the roughly 760 weekly calls it normally received before schools were ordered on March 15 to close their doors.
Gov. Steve Bullock has ordered schools to move online until April 10th, but he’s indicated that timeline could be extended. Division Administrator for Child and Family Services Marti Vining says the shift to online and remote learning is likely the cause.
“Teachers and educators are mandatory reporters, and they probably have the most contact with children second to families,” she said. “So they are typical mandatory reporters we do hear and receive reports from quite frequently.”
Vining hopes calls from teachers and other school staff will pick up as districts get more comfortable communicating with students remotely.
Lisa Clark, counselor for Shelby Elementary, said the Montana Office of Public Instruction is providing guidance to counselors on how they can continue checking in with kids remotely.
“Different ways to check in with kids, whether that’s phone calls, letters, like Google doc or form check-in each day,” she explained.
As districts navigate checking in with students and teaching online, DPHHS child protection specialists are finding ways to work with schools. Glasgow specialists, For example, are helping deliver meals to students’ homes.
DPHHS is also asking community members and families to report any abuse or neglect they see by calling 1-866-820-KIDS.