Experts in Mississippi are concerned that cases of child abuse may be going unreported because of the coronavirus pandemic. Around 10,000 children in Mississippi are victims of abuse each year.
Advocates for children's safety are planting hundreds of pinwheels on the lawn of the Mississippi Capitol and across the state to represent the thousands of children who have suffered abuse. Experts say abuse can be physical, but also includes sexual and emotional abuse, neglect and child exploitation. Mississippi's Child Protective Services Commissioner Andrea Sanders says reports of child abuse in the state have declined since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. “Which in and of itself sounds positive, but is actually alarming,” says Sanders. “We know that children have not been in school and they have not been in their pediatrician’s offices for wellness visits, and so those of us who have worked in this field a long time know that it doesn’t mean that child abuse has decreased, it means that it has gone unnoticed.”
Sanders says when the pandemic subsides, research may find that child abuse is higher than ever before.
April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and the twelve Children's Advocacy Centers across the state are working to raise awareness. Since the centers were founded 20 years ago, they have helped more than 44,000 children.
Executive Director Karla Tye says everyone in Mississippi is required to report signs of child abuse so professionals can start an investigation.
“And that’s when our agency becomes involved, the Children’s Advocacy Centers. So they will make a referral to one of our agencies to conduct the forensic interview of the child,” says Tye. “And so we want to make sure kids are asked questions in a non-leading, developmentally appropriate manner. And so this is done within that investigation with law enforcement and child protective services.”
Experts say if someone thinks a child is a victim of abuse, they should not investigate themselves and should report the case to local law enforcement.