Staying at home instead of returning to school classroom next month could put the lives of many Alabama children at risk.
Compared to last summer, the number of child abuse and neglect prevention reports is down in the state.
It is a trend state officials credit to the coronavirus pandemic and fear could worsen as students start the school year virtually instead of in-person.
Traditionally fewer child abuse and neglect cases are reported during the summer. Between 2017 and 2019, reports in Alabama dropped an average of 25% from May to June. However, in those same years, reporting increased by 28.3% from July to August.
"Abuse and neglect did not take a vacation during this pandemic," Commissioner of Children and Family Services, Karen Smith said.
Every year in Alabama, thousands of kids face neglect and abuse and end up in foster care. Even as the world faces a health crisis, this type of crisis has not gone away.
"It's still there, it's still prevalent, there has been a decrease in abuse and neglect reporting, that doesn't mean that it's not occurring," Smith said.
If you compare March, April, May of this year to last year, reporting has decreased by about 26%. The month of April had the least amount of reports.
"Isolating or remaining in their home, that has limited children's access to outside resources, to church to day care, to school, to baseball teams, to coaches, the extracurricular activities they usually participated in," Smith said.
Smith is also concerned about this upcoming school year. Educators are among the list of mandated reporters, and with some districts choosing to start the year with remote learning, that could mean less reporting.
"You have bus drivers, you also have the janitorial staff, the lunchroom staff," Smith said. "It goes beyond in a school setting just teachers."
However, anyone can report neglect or abuse. Some things to look out for are drastic mood changes in a child or a decrease in hygiene.
"Just looking at the overall picture, has this child changed?" Smith said. WAAY31 reached out to all three school districts in Madison County to see if they are talking with teachers about how to spot neglect or abuse during the first nine weeks of virtual learning those systems have planned. Huntsville City Schools released this statement:
"Huntsville City Schools remains committed to providing holistic services that meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of our students. The HCS Student Welfare and Social Services Department will continue to serve as a liaison between students, their families, and local social service agencies. Social workers will continue to provide wraparound services for students and families in addition to serving as a hub for any concerns. Supporting the overall well-being of students and families will remain a top priority."
For more information on reporting and child services in Alabama, click here.