The Investigators: Child abuse reports dropped to a 5-year low in Arkansas, officials won’t link it to the COVID-19 pandemic

Child abuse reports dropped to a 5-year low in Arkansas, officials won’t link to COVID-19 pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Child abuse reports in Arkansas dropped to a five-year low in Arkansas in April, which also happened to be Child Abuse and Prevention Month.

“The decrease is because children are not with trusted people,” said Elizabeth Pulley, Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas.

Those trusted people include coaches, teachers and religious leaders and are often the first to spot child abuse.

“They’re not directly involved with kids every single day like they normally are, so they’re not making those calls to the hotline,” said Pulley.

A WMC Action News 5 Investigation into calls made to Arkansas’s Child Abuse Hotline reveals 3,191 calls were received by the hotline last month.

5,036 calls were received by the hotline in March while 6,179 calls were received in April 2019.

Our investigation also revealed that just over half of April’s calls met the state’s criteria for investigation.

That number too, 1,761, is the lowest in five years.

April is also Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month, so more calls come in during that time period than some other months.

“This April has been unique because of COVID-19, kids being out of school, so we’ve seen the numbers decrease in the month of April and during this time frame,” said Pulley.

However, child abuse investigators in Arkansas stopped short of connecting the COVID-19 pandemic to the decrease.

Arkansas State Police, which is in charge of the hotline, said in a statement “We cannot say with certainty what impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the number of calls into the hotline.”

The Arkansas Department of Human Services, which is responsible for child abuse and neglect prevention in the state, also said in a statement:

“The only thing we can definitively say is that the number of calls have gone down...However, we do know that teachers and school officials are mandated reporters and make calls with concerns they see by being around children they serve each day. With schools closed and with everyone who has been doing their part to flatten the curve by staying at home and keeping away from crowds, there may be fewer opportunities for people to notice things that might concern them. Still, we encourage those who have concerns about a child’s safety to call the hotline if they suspect abuse or neglect."

Meanwhile, child abuse investigators in Mississippi and Tennessee have connected the drop in calls to the pandemic.

Director Pulley agrees and says of the numbers she has seen, there is plenty to be concerned about.

“We’ve seen somewhat of an increase in physical abuse since COVID-19 has happened and we’re contributing that to the stresses that are within a household,” she said.

“2020 has started pretty high for us but with this COVID-19, it has decreased so it will be interesting to see what through the rest of the year what the number of reports look like,” said Pulley.

Arkansas has mandated reporters, which are people who must report child abuse if they suspect it.

However, anyone can and is encouraged to call the hotline if you suspect abuse. The number is 1-800-482-5964.

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