PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s top education officials are alarmed by a recent decline of child abuse and neglect reports, saying districts need to boost family support and get students back to in-person learning.
Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said Tuesday she’s worried about the recent fall in reports made to the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families, which started when the state shifted to remote learning in the spring.
“This is one of the many reasons we wanted kids back in-person,” Infante-Green told 12 News. “Their instruction and education is No. 1, but schools are not just a place for learning, it’s where we catch a lot of these cases. It’s a sanctuary for many kids.”
The concerns came a day after a Target 12 investigation showed child abuse and neglect reports fell nearly 50% in April, the first full month of remote learning. Advocates worry distance learning means children have fewer interactions with adults outside of their immediate families. And many of the reports of child abuse and neglect come from adults in schools.
“These kids depend on us in these schools,” Cranston school resource officer Matthew Davis told Target 12 for its report.
Providence Public Schools Department superintendent Harrison Peters, who oversees the state’s largest school district, made note of the Target 12 investigation during a Providence City Council meeting Tuesday. He said the district needs to do everything it can to make sure it’s connecting with students who are not physically in the schools.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing our part as the School Department and supporting families if they are having issues,” Peters said. “We know attendance matters, so we’re not going to stop until we can connect with as many students that we can, and we can get that number as close to zero as possible.”
Rhode Island public schools have grappled with making in-person learning work this fall, as some schools have had to deal with coronavirus cases popping up, while others have so far opted to stick with remote learning out of health and safety concerns.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has pushed hard for districts to get back to in-person learning, even publicly criticizing some local school districts that have decided against the option. On Wednesday, Raimondo said there are about 100,000 students learning in-person compared to about 50,000 students learning remotely.
“There’s no data to suggest that it’s safer for teachers and students because they’re still getting the virus at similar and higher rates than they do at school,” Raimondo argued in favor of in-person learning during her weekly news conference. “The kids at home are more susceptible to abuse and neglect [and] falling behind in school.”
The decline of child abuse and neglect reports beginning in March continued through the end of the school year last spring. And while state officials interviewed by Target 12 wouldn’t say definitively the end of in-person learning directly caused the reduction of child abuse and neglect reports, advocates and medical officials have little doubt the two issues are connected.
“I wish we could celebrate that decline,” Rhode Island Kids Count executive director Elizabeth Burke Bryant told Target 12 for its report. “What that data really shows us is a concern that we’re hearing less about suspected cases of abuse and neglect.”
On Tuesday, Infante-Green called the decline “not a good sign.”
“It’s really important to keep kids safe,” she said.
- The DCYF statewide toll-free hotline operates 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The hotline is dedicated to the receipt of reports concerning abuse and neglect. The number is 1-800-RI-CHILD (1-800-742-4453). All calls are recorded.
- The toll-free number for the new screening and response unit is 1-888-RI-FAMLY or 1-888-743-2659
Kim Kalunian contributed to this story.