BATON ROUGE, La (BRPROUD) — During the pandemic, the number of children entering the foster care system in Louisiana dropped by more than 50 percent according to the Louisiana Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS).
In April 2019, 4,761 children were in the Louisiana foster care system. As of April 2020, DCFS said 2,327 children were in foster care.
“We did see a reduction in the number of reports being received during the pandemic,” said Mona Michelli, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Child Welfare, DCFS.
While the number of reported child abuse cases decreased, children’s advocacy groups said the number of actual abuse cases increased, but went unreported.
“It seems like a paradox because the numbers went down in terms of entry into foster care, our experience was the exact opposite,” said Toni Bankston, CEO of Children’s Advocacy Center. “The reporting of child abuse or the encountering of child abuse went up 30 percent.”
Why did so many cases get missed? Because the systems in place for early detection were taken away, according to experts.
“It dropped significantly once children were not going to school and maybe we’re not seeing physicians as regularly as well,” Michelli said.
“I often say that teachers are the heroes because they are mandated reporters and they are on the front line of hearing what’s going on with children,” Bankston said.
Now that fewer reports were coming from teachers, more were coming from the police and emergency departments.
“One thing that we did see is we saw an increase in the number of reports more so through law enforcement, through hospitals, and those emergency care facilities,” Michelli said.
“There is a level of intensity that’s increased with cases,” Bankston shared. “And we have seen more a higher degree of violence.”
With schools reopening, abuse can be caught earlier. But with COVID ramping up again, some wonder what will happen if everything shuts down.
“Keep your eyes out, whether it’s neighbors whether it’s friends, check on your friends, check on your families who are vulnerable, and report on any abuse or neglect that you are seeing,” Michelli said.
“Child abuse is not an oddity, it’s common,” Bankston said. “And so if we know it’s common then we need to be able to empower ourselves to speak up.”
The number of children in foster care had bounced back to 4,448 by April 2021, according to DCFS.