The coronavirus pandemic brought with it a drop in mandatory child abuse reports, but child welfare advocates and law enforcement officials believe abuse is still occurring in Oregon.
Kevin Dowling, executive director of Child Abuse Response and Evaluation Services Northwest – which serves the most populous areas of Oregon, told KGW8 in June that the children’s advocacy center, which provides therapy and medical abuse evaluations, saw a dramatic difference after COVID-19 arrived.
Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton told KGW8 the drop in abuse reports was misleading. The drop beginning in the spring was chalked up to March’s stay-home order and the sudden end of in-person schooling. Teachers account for about half of mandatory calls to the abuse hotline, according to KGW8.
CARES NW recently expanded online video counseling and text chats with therapists, noting that in some cases, the distance helps victims communicate more freely. The state has also issued wellbeing guidelines for use by mandatory reporters during the quarantine.
Child Abuse by the Numbers in Benton County
In 2019, Benton County had 105 founded cases of child abuse out of 574 reported, according to state statistics, which is up slightly from the 103 founded cases in 2018. There was a dip to 85 founded cases in 2017, but 110 were reported in 2016. The victim rate, however, has steadily inched up since 2017. The number of kids in foster care in the county went down in 2019.
By comparison, Linn County had 355 founded cases of 1,827 reported in 2019. Lincoln County had 115 founded cases of 488 reported for the year. Both counties were down from 2018 numbers. In 2017, Linn County had 254 founded cases of 1,227 and Lincoln County had 126 founded of 542, both showing increases from 2016 statistics.
Incidents of child abuse are broken into five different categories, and founded reports may include multiple incidents. In Benton County for 2019, there were the following cases: one mental injury, 84 neglects, 14 physical abuses, 13 sexual abuses, and 90 threats of harm. Children age 5 and under were the biggest victim block, with decreasingly fewer cases as age categories increase.
In 2018, Oregon data showed in 93% of child abuse cases where the person responsible for the abuse is a family member. In 39% of those cases, the leading perpetrator is the mother, followed by the father in 37% of cases.
Benton County Court Appointed Special Advocates warns of dire long-term consequences when children grow up in unsafe settings. CASA says victimized children may not be able to learn at the same rate as their peers and they may struggle with emotional difficulties. They often enter care behind at least a year in school. There’s also a risk of long-term, deadly health problems
Foster homes aren’t much better in terms of keeping kids who get shuffled through them up to speed in school or socialization, according to CASA, who adds that few foster children receive normal physical examinations, and says they are the most vulnerable to experiencing poor health compared with any other group of children in the U.S.
For foster children who don’t find a permanent home and age out of the system, the consequences are significant and long-term: only 50% will complete high school, 25% will be homeless, 40% will depend on some form of public assistance, and 27% of males and 10% of females will be incarcerated at least once, according to CASA.
By Cody Mann