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Missouri leaders concerned about ‘alarming drop’ in child abuse hotline during coronavirus crisis


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s top leaders said they are concerned about the “alarming drop” in calls made to the state’s child abuse hotline over the past two weeks as schools have shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Department of Social Services (DSS) said its Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline has seen about a 50 percent drop in calls since March 11. 

“As a law enforcement officer for more than 20 years, I understand when a household is unsafe how vulnerable children can be,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “This dramatic drop in Hotline reports is truly alarming. I know Missourians are very focused on COVID-19, but we must remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure every Missouri child remains safe from abuse and neglect.” 

Every public district and charter school closed by March 19 due to COVID-19. According to DSS, educators and child care providers largely make up the reports made to the hotline given their daily contact with children. 

During this time of social distancing and local stay at home orders, families could experience an elevated risk of abuse or neglect, the department said. 

“This low number of calls is very abnormal for the Hotline, and our worst fear is that children are unsafe while at home,” Jennifer Tidball, acting director of DSS, said. “Teachers and child care providers are mandated reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect and are often our state’s best radar on a child’s wellbeing because children are in school or at child care each day.” 

“If you are an educator, child care provider, or anyone who has concerns for a child you think may be at risk, please call the Hotline,” Tidball continued. “Children’s Division workers are still out there connecting with families, providing assistance, and making sure kids are safe. But we can’t help that child if we don’t get a report to the Hotline.” 

The toll-free hotline, manned around the clock, is 1-800-392-3738. Reports can be made anonymously. 

More than 300 Missourians have tested positive for coronavirus since testing began earlier this month. Eight people have died. 

The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” while the disease is called “coronavirus disease 2019,” or “COVID-19.” It can cause severe respiratory illnesses with symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.