LARGO, Fla. — Child advocates fear child abuse is going unreported during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, the number of calls to the abuse hotline started to decline. Schools first closed in March due to coronavirus concerns.
In April, calls dropped 40% compared to the same month last year.
"The people that report abuse are people in daycare centers, coaches, people who see these kids, frequently. During the day, they'll notice something is different and something is wrong so with the kids not out and about in those places, we're not getting the reports," said Chris Card, Chief of Community-Based Care with Eckerd Connects.
Eckerd Connects is the lead child welfare service in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties.
Chris Card said caseworkers continue to see children in person and set up virtual calls during the pandemic.
"We're still doing home visits with certain situations that are higher risk. We're doing those visits in person still," said Card.
Kimberly Hall, a senior case manager for Lutheran Services Florida, visited with a family on Friday.
"We meet out in public places. We do meet at the home, but due to COVID-19, we don't enter the homes. We do still lay eyes on the children and see the children face-to-face to make sure they're OK," said Hall.
Hall met with Ellen Desort and her three grandchildren.
Desort has been caring for her grandsons for the past several years. She plans to adopt them in June.
"I'm 62 years old and I have three kids under the age of 10. Without them, Ms. Kim, I don't know where I would be" said Desort.
Desort did not want her grandchildren to split up after parental rights were terminated after child abuse or neglect.
"If I did not take them on, they'd split the boys up and I wasn't about to let that happen. You can't take three brothers and say you got to go live here and you got to go live here and we don't know when you'll see each other again," said Desort.
Card said he is unsure what to expect once the pandemic is over.
"When this rolls back into a normal situation and these kids get out into the community more and them into school, we anticipate a spike in calls," he said.
To report child abuse call 1-800-96-ABUSE.