PLAINFIELD — The number of child abuse reports in Indiana is down. While that may sound good on the surface, it actually has child advocates concerned.
A partnership between advocates and local schools is aiming to let children know there are still trusted adults they can turn to during the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced them out of school.
"It's the kindergarteners through second-graders that keep me up at night," Dr. Laura Delvecchio, the director of student learning for Plainfield Community School Corp., said. "Because they don't have cell phones. They don't always have access to the technology in order to tell someone."
Two weeks into the pandemic, Delvecchio realized more needed to be done to protect students while they are staying at home.
"I had a conversation with our local DCS caseworker, reports are down. Reports of child abuse, domestic violence, all reports are down," Delvecchio said. "It is because the key people who make the reports, schools, community members, churches, daycare are not seeing kids."
"We know it's not because child abuse is not occurring," Emily Perry, founder and executive director of Susie's Place, said.
During the pandemic, calls to the state's child abuse and neglect hotline are down more than 40 percent compared to April 2019. That is why Susie's Place, a child advocacy center, developed a partnership with seven local schools to reach children at home through e-learning.
"This campaign started where we were driving it as a school district," Delvecchio said. "We kept using the #InThisTogether because we really are."
During the pandemic, Plainfield schools teamed up with Susie's Place, the Town of Plainfield and Sheltering Wings, a domestic violence non-profit, sending home safety reminders in their lunch bags.
"So we are teaching them how to be aware of, to spot red flags. You know when you get a funny feeling in your stomach and you know something isn't right you need to move away from that," Perry said. "We teach them how to report and identify safe, interested adults. We teach them and no matter what happens when it comes to abuse there is no blame against them and no shame."
Now that Plainfield schools are out for the summer, the message remains the same. They want community members to be aware of signs of child abuse and domestic violence and report it. Throughout the summer they plan to continue handing out safety information when their feeding program starts back up on June 1.
Throughout the summer, students at Plainfield can still reach out to their counselors.
If you do suspect that a child is being mistreated, please call the Indiana Department of Child Services at 800-800-5556 to make a report.