COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) — Child advocacy officials say abuse and neglect referrals are half of what they were this time last year in Franklin County. However, they're expecting a surge as things open back up, prompting them to ask Congress for funding.
The money would go towards existing programs for children dealing with abuse and neglect. The advocacy agencies say just because they're receiving less reports and referrals now, doesn't mean the abuse isn't happening.
"We are really concerned with the possibility that the child welfare system in Ohio could really be struggling and face an increased amount of referrals," said Kim Eckhard with the Children's Defense Fund of Ohio.
The group is just one of several agencies that penned a letter to the Ohio House asking for emergency funding.
"We are urging Congress to include emergency funding for child welfare services in the next COVID-19 relief bill and what that would look like would be increased funding for already established funding sources just to allow the state to respond to these additional needs that they're going to see," Eckhard said.
According to Franklin County Children Services, referrals were down 36 percent in March from March 2019. In April, they were down 51percent from the previous year.
Officials say this is because children aren't coming in contact with child abuse and neglect "reporters" like coaches, teachers, librarians and daycare employees.
"We know that as kids go back to school, back to daycare, we will see more reports of child abuse and neglect coming in and our workforce needs to be prepared for that," said Scott Britton, Assistant Director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.
Britton says although reports and referrals are down, the severity of cases reported are up. He also says there's been an increase in the number of children in state custody, statewide.
"Unfortunately while we had upwards of 16,000 in children in care on any given day before the pandemic, we are now at about 17,000 children in children's services custody on any given day," Britton said.
Franklin County Children Services has a 24-hour hotline you can call to report abuse and neglect.