More Cuyahoga County children calling abuse helplines amid pandemic; DFCS seeing referrals back in ‘normal’ range

Children calling abuse helplines amid pandemic; DFCS seeing referrals back in ‘normal’ range

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The pandemic is taking a toll on all of us, but children who are trapped at home with an abuser are likely in some of the most tragic situations.

It’s so bad, officials say kids are the ones calling for help for themselves.

Melissa Graves with the Journey Center says her team is trained to respond to even the little voices that come through to the nonprofit’s help line (216-391-4357).

“What we have seen over the course of COVID on that hotline is that we have more children who are calling the helpline directly,” Graves said. “That is just heartbreaking.”

It’s important to make the distinction however between her non-profit’s anonymous helpline and the actual DCFS tip line.

Journey is there to provide resources and advice, while encouraging minors to reach out to a trusted adult.

“It is the trusted adults in our community who usually make that call to DCFS,” Graves said.

Once that happens, the report is handed to a case worker.

They are in incredibly hard positions too right now, though, as families and communities remain primarily shut inside, living life apart from each other.

Elizabeth Nekoloff, is the hotline administrator for the Cuyahoga County Department of Child and Family Services. She says the good news, is that her office is finally feeling like it’s nearing a normal workload again, bouncing back after the initial challenges that came with the pandemic.

Calls and referrals to DCFS took a dip in March of 2020 when schools closed and quarantines set in.

Officials knew abuse was likely still happening, just not being reported.

Thankfully, new data shows calls to the DCFS have recently jumped back up in a range comparable to years past.

19 Investigates discovered the reports didn’t get there traditionally though.

In an effort to better facilitate that process Cuyahoga County launched an email based tip line.

“That email was something that was developed during the pandemic,” Nekoloff said.

She says it’s allowed people, even children, who may be at home with an abuser to write in, instead of having to make an audible phone call.

“The email has generated a whole new set of allegations that we have to then determine whether it gets screened in or screened out,” she said.

We asked her if she was confident there were not children still falling through the cracks right now though.

“I don’t think we can be sure there aren’t children falling through the cracks even prior to the pandemic. We can only go upon what we know. So, if people aren’t calling in or aren’t notifying us we don’t have any idea what’s going on,” she said. “If anybody feels that a child is at risk, or is concerned about a child, make sure they call 696-KIDS.”

Graves says there’s one more thing you can do to help, even if you don’t know any children being hurt.

“I really encourage people to get active and contacting your senators your local representatives to increase support for families,” Graves said. “We need to support families in being able to support their children.”

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