ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WKBW) — On March 16, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools across Western New York to close. Teachers, who are required by law to report any suspected child abuse to Child Protective Services, could no longer see their students.
Dr. Michelle Penque is the medical director of Oishei's emergency unit. She said 20% of child abuse reports come from teachers and school administrators.
"he CPS reports are down 50% across New York State. I have data for the entire year of 2020 now and we compared it to the entire year of 2019. The number of admitted abused children has gone up almost three fold. It's gone from 19 children to 54," Dr. Penque said.
She said that increase concerns her.
"There is not only an increase in severity, I believe these are not being picked up as early as they used to be when children were in school or around other people outside the home who could detect the abuse earlier," Dr. Penque said.
In Erie County, child abuse reports were down 20% from March 2020 through the end of the year compared to 2019. Some weeks reports were down around 60%.
Dr. Tonja Williams is an assistant superintendent for the Buffalo Public Schools. She said BPS has developed plans to try to combat the lack of eyes on children, but nothing can take the place of seeing a child in person every weekday.
"Some of the key signs or signals a child may share with a teacher remotely, alarm a teacher to dispatch out someone from one of our student support teams to do a wellness check," Dr. Williams said.
Both Dr. Penque and Dr. Williams said the lack of CPS reports may not be the only factor contributing to the uptick in abuse admissions.
"There's so much more stress. People are under economic stress, psychological stress," Dr. Penque said.
"It certainly has brought about a whole host of emotional and traumatic situations that are impacting our families," Dr. Williams said.
While majority of children are still not in the classroom full-time, Dr. Williams said it's more important than ever to remember: if you see something, say something.
"I would say err on the side of caution. Where children are concerned, if you have a gut feeling, if you're not really sure but you think something could be going on, make the call," Dr. Williams said.
If you suspect a child is being abused, call 1-800-342-3720 or call 911.