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Kids return to school, revealing a summer of abuse; experts worry many are still silent

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Kids return to school, revealing a summer of abuse; experts worry many are still silent (FILE Photo: KUTV)

This spring, child advocates warned the pandemic's social isolation might obscure suspected cases of child neglect and abuse.

New data obtained by the KUTV Investigative Team shows their worries are being borne out. More than 300 school referrals were phoned into the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) between Aug. 1 and Sept. 8, but that's still dramatically lower than last year.

Social Isolation Kept Abuse Quiet, Experts Fear

Trend lines for child abuse tends to follow that of domestic violence, Prevent Child Abuse Utah Executive Director Laurieann Thorpe told 2News.

During the high isolation phase of the pandemic, Thorpe says, the problem of child abuse didn't go away; it became less visible.

The numbers of calls to DCFS plunged in April.

In May, Thorpe and DCFS Director Diane Moore said they anticipate a surge of child abuse cases once children reentered the community and returned to school.

Child Abuse Gone Undetected, Now Surfaces

What we’re seeing is a dramatic increase in the number of calls for referrals for child abuse...in the end of August to now," Thorpe adds.

DCFS officials confirmed to 2News that there's been a steady rise in calls, but noted that those numbers are still lower than last year.

The agency has 3,500 fewer overall child protective services cases when comparing March to September in 2019 to the same time frame in 2020.

School Referrals Are On the Rise, But Still Much Lower Than Last Year

We still aren’t see 100 percent of the kids back in school," explains Thorpe.

The agency also reports they have 1,800 fewer school referrals.

School referrals phoned in 308 calls of suspected abuse between August 1st and September 8th of this year.

That's still 240 fewer calls than what DCFS received during the same time period last year.

DCFS officials pointed out that they cannot clarify whether a school referral comes from a virtual or in-person source; therefore, it's unclear how many reports stem from in-person schooling.