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Child abuse and neglect on the rise and harder to detect during COVID-19

Child abuse and neglect are two of the most difficult topics to discuss in relation to Texas family law. Divorces and child custody cases are the most frequent types of family law matters not a lawyer will have to deal with, but child abuse and neglect are probably the two toughest to stomach. Children are in vulnerable positions given that they are not able to care for themselves and rely upon their parents for all the things that they need to live. Parents have an obligation to provide basics and food, shelter, and education as well as medical care. 

During a viral pandemic like we are experiencing right now children who are at risk of abuse and neglect in the home are in an especially perilous situation. The reason for this is because they, as the victim, are in the home much more frequently along with their parents who tend to be the abusers or neglect yrs. They stay at home orders issued by local government officials over the past few months were intended to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. However, an unintended side effect of these stay at home orders may be that more children have been exposed to the risk of abuse or neglect. 

When we talk about abuse or neglect of a child, we are discussing the subject that can be especially difficult to track or substantiate. Many times, you cannot tell just from looking at a child that he or she has been abused. And fortunate part about abuse or neglect is that it can occur over a fairly long. With no easily observed signs of this abuse and neglect having occurred. 

This is where the state of Texas steps in in order to provide protection or children who may have been victims of abuse or neglect. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is the state agency whose mission it is to protect vulnerable people like children and adults you have been abused or neglected by a person who has conservatorship rights over him or her. Child Protective Services is a subset of the Department of Family and Protective Services. This is the organization that investigates abuse and neglect of children in Texas. 

The process by which Child Protective Services investigates allegations of abuse or neglect against the child is extremely relevant to this discussion. I would like to spend some time discussing how a Child Protective Services investigation functions and the degree to which the COVID-19 pandemic maybe exacerbating abuse and neglect of children in our state. As we have seen throughout our history, decisions from government typically have unintended consequences. A rise in abuse or neglect of children is one of those consequences.

How does a Child Protective Services investigation regarding abuse or neglect of a child function? 

In order for Child Protective Services to even begin an investigation into child abuse or neglect at first needs to become aware of an allegation regarding abuse or neglect. Child Protective Services does not have fieldworkers walking up and down the streets of the neighborhoods of our state looking for cases of abuse or neglect. The agency becomes aware of allegations of abuse or neglect of children through a telephone system that employees monitor. 

CPS has a man hotline which persons can contact 24 hours a day with information regarding potential cases of abuse or neglect of children. Abuse and neglect often times take place in the homes of these children or at daycare facilities where children are receiving care while parents work. What happens is that the CPS employee will receive information regarding allegations of abuse or neglect that will initiate an investigation into the matter.

If CPS has enough of a belief that abuse, and neglect has a curd an investigation will be started. An investigator will go to the home or location provided by the caller and well attempt to introduce him or herself. That investigator will seek to gain access to the home in order to investigate the property As well as to interview persons who live in the home. This includes parents, any adults living in the home as well as children who live in the home in are the subject of the investigation. CPS will collect as much evidence as possible into the matter and will then make a determination about whether or not it is likely that abuse or neglect has occurred. 

How has COVID-19 impacted these investigations?

This is typically how a CPS investigation will proceed. However, all of these steps after the initial phone call involved person to person contact. With the lockdowns and stay at home orders from various government officials still prevailing in many places it has become harder for Child Protective Services to follow up on allegations and to conduct investigations in a manner that is likely to produce valid determinations regarding whether or not abuse and neglect if a child has occurred.

Child Protective Services investigators are oftentimes stretched to the max as far as having relatively little time to investigate the amount of cases on their work schedule. Even as some restrictions on mobility and employment loosen in the summer it is true that going from house to house and investigating child abuse and neglect is more challenging now then in pretty much anytime that I can think of previously. 

The combination of children being out of school and parents being home from work is a potentially dangerous one for certain children. Parents who are prone to abusing or neglecting their children are now feeling levels of stress that they very likely may have never experienced before. If a parent has lost their job and is unable to pay rent or the mortgage, then even the smallest stressor in their daily life can create a circumstance where a child may be abused as a result. Couple this with children who are off of their normal schedule and are now more prone to behavioral problems and you can see that abuse or neglect in the home appears to be more likely as a result. 

What happens if a parent loses their job? It is not out of the realm of possibilities not a parent has lost their job do too problems in the economy that are related to the COVID-19 shutdowns. We have seen unemployment in our state and country rise to levels that were previously unimaginable. When we talk about job loss, we also need to talk about the inability to provide housing for your children, the increased likelihood that medical bills will go unpaid due to lack of health insurance and the daily stress associated with providing food for your family.

On the flip side, parents who are out of work may leave the home for long stretches of time as they go on job interviews and look for employment throughout our area. Once a parent find work then it is possible that he or she will need to be out of the home for even longer stretches of time. Many of these parents are unable to provide adequate supervision of their children and will either leave their child to fend for him or herself at home or will place their children in daycare's that are themselves inadequate. 

With that said parents may be allowing their children to be exposed to potential risks of abuse or neglect from people that would ordinarily not need to come into contact with their children. I can think of extended family situations where a parent or a grandparent would typically provide for a child but are not able to right now due to concerns over limiting the spread of COVID-19. Instead of placing their child in the care of a trusted relative a local daycare or babysitter may be called in to this role instead. 

The viral pandemic may make it more difficult for parents to identify that their child has been the victim of abuse or neglect 

One of the places that tends to report the most allegations of abuse or neglect of children is in schools. Teachers and administrators have close inappropriate contact with children over long periods of time. Having this degree of contact with children allows teachers and other school officials to be able to make observations of children that most other adults in the child's life would not be able to make. 

School is now out for this summer and even during the initial months of the shutdown schools were not open. Yes, it is true, that schools did require students to attend virtually the experience in the classroom is much different than the experience on a computer screen. This is especially true when it comes to teachers and their responsibility to report alleged incidents of abuse or neglect. Given this hefty burden on teachers It is asking a lot of them to be able to identify signs of abuse or neglect when they cannot be in front of these children physically. 

The rise of Tele medicine during this pandemic also stands to worsen our response to abuse or neglect of children. Much like teachers, nurses and pediatricians are in unique positions in terms of their access to children. These medical professionals are trained to identify signs of abuse or neglect in kids. As fewer children go to physical doctor appointments this is bad not only for their health overall but also when it comes to helping doctors and nurses identify cases of abuse or neglect 

From what I understand teachers and doctors are trained to identify signs of abuse or neglect in children. Many of the techniques utilized do not work as well when the closest that they get to a child is by video over the Internet. Think about all the misdiagnoses that are occurring in our country right now because children have not been attending primary care doctor visits for months and months. This is In addition to cases of abuse or neglect that are also going unreported due to children staying at home rather than going to school and the doctor. 

What this may mean for you and your family? 

The best that I can tell you in relation to your child and abuse or neglect would be that you are your child's guardian in a very literal sense. It is up to you to ensure that your child is safe and that he or she is comfortable and able to talk to you about sensitive subjects such as these. If you believe that your child has been the victim of abuse and neglect at the hands of an adult it is up to you to initiate the process where Law enforcement is called or a report is issued to CPS directly. 

However, if the shoe is on the other foot and you are the person being investigated for alleged incidents of abuse and neglect against a child then you should not give up hope. There is a process that you and the court will follow in regard to moving your case along through the CPS process. If you are able to participate in the investigation and to provide information that helps CPS do its job then you are more likely to have your child returned to your home have conservatorships rights. An experienced family law attorney who was handled many, many CPS cases will be a great resource to have in your corner during these months of pandemic.

Questions about family law and child abuse during the COVID-19 Pandemic? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material provided to you in today's blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys are available six days a week via video color in person or over the telephone consultations with one of our family law attorneys. Our office takes a lot of pride in being able to represent people from our community just like you have family law issues that need to be addressed.  

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