COVID-19 changing how social workers handle child abuse cases in Durham County

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – School remains closed for thousands of students across the state as the fight to slow the spread of the coronavirus continues.

In Durham County, the canceled classes leave some advocates concerned about children’s safety.

RELATED: Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in NC

Child and family services social workers with the county said without additional eyes on children from teachers, counselors and even bus drivers, many kids can go neglected or abused.

“COVID-19 unfortunately has not stopped children from being abused and neglected,” said social work supervisor Lavelle Chesney with Durham County Child and Family Services.

According to the assistant director of CFS, Durham County receives about 350 reports of child abuse or neglect a month.

Of that number, about 220 meet the definition of child abuse and are investigated by the agency.

From March 6 through March 28, CFS received 127 reports. Social workers are investigating 90.

On Monday, 11 new reports were made.

“We’ve had to unfortunately remove children since school has been released. These things are still happening. Although we have this pandemic we have to continue business,” said Chesney.

Conducting business has been especially challenging for this department. A malware attack in March disrupted computer systems and phone lines, including a very important number.

“Getting those calls in through our hotline has been nonexistent since March 6 since we had our cyber attack. So, we are relying on calls through 911 and then 911 calling us with the numbers of the reporters and then the team calls back those reporters,” explained longtime social worker and Child Protective Services program manager Ann Granby.

At-home visits have also changed.

“We are asking those additional questions. Are they having any symptoms? Are there any children in the home having symptoms? to make sure they are safe,” explained Quanesha Archer, who serves as a program manager with child welfare intake.

Before the pandemic, social workers were making home visits with a notebook and badge, but now they’re dressed in personal protective equipment.

“We are having to take extra precautions with masks and gloves. Some very unconventional type of interviews are happening. Children are being brought to the front doors. The parents are talking to social workers,” said Chesney.

Until the phone system is repaired you should call 911 to report child abuse or neglect.

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