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Sergeant says child abuse was underreported during pandemic

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    PORTLAND, Oregon (KPTV) — Throughout the pandemic, parents have voiced concerns that some kids might fall through the cracks, either in terms of educational development or their health and safety.

Early in the pandemic, the Portland Police Bureau expressed concern that the same could be true when it comes to child abuse.

Before the COVID-19 lockdowns, PPB’s unit charged with investigating cases of child abuse routinely received close to 50 reports per day. In the first months of the pandemic, they saw that number plummet to just 10-15 reports per day.

Those in the unit doubted whether that number accurately reflected reality, believing instead that abuse was being underreported.

‘We felt the abuse was still occurring’: PPB sergeant says child abuse was underreported during pandemic
KPTV image

“We felt the abuse was still occurring. There was just no one outside of the home to be able to speak to the kids or get eyes on the kids to make those reports,” said Sgt. David Kile.

Starting in October, reports of abuse to the police bureau gradually crept back up, and now the unit takes about 30 reports per day.

“Kids are getting outside, kids are playing sports again, day cares are opening up, after school programs are opening up, and schools are opening up. Which I think the schools are one of our biggest reporters,” said Kile.

In January, the Department of Human Services announced that fewer children were in foster care in 2020 than at any point in the past 15 years, but an agency spokesperson affirmed Kile’s concerns about underreporting of abuse.

“We are still unable to conclusively understand the impact that COVID-19 has had on rates of abuse and neglect,” said DHS Press Secretary Jake Sunderland. “Until Oregon returns to full-time, in-person learning, we do not expect to see the rates of reports from education reporters return to anywhere close to normal.”

In the meantime, while there are fewer children in foster care, the agency is partnering with several non-profits to provide services to those families that are providing foster care, and facing their own pandemic challenges.

“One thing I have appreciated through this is DHS actually has reached out to us. Saying, ‘hey we see what you’re doing.’ We really want to encourage that,” said Allie Roth, President and founder of With Love Oregon, which provides clothing and other supplies to foster families.

According to DHS, while there was a decrease in call volume to its child abuse hotline at the beginning of the pandemic, call volume has returned to a level that is closer to normal.

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