Bipartisan group of lawmakers calls on DeVos to issue guidance on child abuse reporting amid pandemic

Bipartisan group of lawmakers calls on DeVos to issue guidance on child abuse reporting amid pandemic
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of House members is calling on Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosPressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' Teachers face off against Trump on school reopenings Battle over reopening schools heats up MORE to provide guidance to educators on how to identify and report child abuse amid growing concerns that children who are stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic are particularly susceptible to harm.

The group of over 40 lawmakers said that while stay-at-home orders have been critical to saving lives, teachers are in need of updated direction on how to spot and report abuse with such limited interactions with their students.

“Since cities and states instituted shelter-in-place restrictions and moved to online learning, children have lost access to essential state and government functions and services that often provide opportunities to identify abuse and to offer protection,” the lawmakers, led by Reps. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzHouse panel advances bill banning construction on bases with Confederate names The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Rodney Davis says most important thing White House can do on COVID-19 is give consistent messaging; US new cases surpass 50k for first time VA initiates process to remove headstones with Nazi symbols MORE (D-Fla.) and Anthony GonzalezAnthony GonzalezEyes on the prize: Testing to end the coronavirus lockdown House GOP to launch China probes beyond COVID-19 Bipartisan group of lawmakers calls on DeVos to issue guidance on child abuse reporting amid pandemic MORE (R-Ohio), wrote to DeVos. 

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“When children are no longer interacting in-person with teachers, coaches and other outside adults, the prudent order to stay at home does not always result in staying safe. This added guidance will help ensure that shelter-in-place orders protect children — not their abusers," the letter says.

The House members said new guidance should encourage state departments of education to mandate the inclusion of a reporting mechanism, either via voice, online chat or other digital means, to enable children to report any abuse. They said new guidance should direct educators to remind students that they can provide help if needed.

The lawmakers cited data from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network's National Sexual Abuse Hotline noting that half of their requests for support in March came from minors, a rise from about one-third in previous months. 

“This data makes it abundantly clear that school closures and shelter-in-place orders, while necessary to fight the spread of this pandemic, are having dangerous unintended consequences on our nation’s children,” the lawmakers wrote. “As a society and as a government, we need to rise to meet this challenge and to enact additional safeguards to identify children in need of help and to give them guidance in seeking that help.”