Child advocates plan training for virtual teachers to spot potential abuse

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020 at 10:39 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Reports of child abuse are down in Charlottesville and across the country, in large part because schools went online.

Now with classes ready to restart in the fall, there is a renewed focus on helping students dealing with potentially dangerous home lives.

Keeping children safe was a big reason why many area schools opted to start fall classes virtually. But in order to ensure their safety, kids still need teachers to keep an eye on them.

“Teachers have often been kind of the frontline workers and helping all of us identify when a child is in trouble,” said Cynthia Hurst, the executive director of Foothills Child Advocacy Center.

Hurst says data from National Children’s Alliance found that from January 2020 to June 2020, a total of 40,000 fewer children received services compared to the same time period in 2019.

At Foothills, there was a 14 percent decrease from the fiscal year 2019 to 2020.

“Unfortunately that means that there are probably about that many children, or maybe more, who never have their story told, or be put in a safe place,” she said.

That’s why Foothills is preparing to train teachers and other school staff members on how to help a student from a video classroom.

“Up until now most people weren’t laying eyes on these kids,” Hurst said. “Now at least if they go back virtually the teachers will see them on the screen.”

She says there are unique advantages to this because you can see things not always visible before.

“There will be a new window into a child’s life that hopefully can help us help them.”

While child abuse cases appear lower, domestic violence cases have still increased. With home life stressful because of the pandemic, Hurst says vigilance is vital to stop the violence.

“We want to help the kids. And we also want them to grow into healthy adults, so we can break the cycle.”

If you see or hear something that makes you believe a child is unsafe, Hurst urges you to call Child Protective Services at (800) 552-7096.

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