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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 DeVosHouse committee subpoenas Education Department staff over for-profit colleges DeVos says it isn't Department of Education's job to track schools' coronavirus reopening plans Judge calls Devos student loan forgiveness process 'disturbingly Kafkaesque' 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 SchultzFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Five things to watch at the Democratic National Convention Michelle Obama wishes Barack a happy birthday: 'My favorite guy' MORE (D-Fla.) and Anthony GonzalezAnthony GonzalezHow to expand rural broadband, fast and affordably Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts Chinese, Malaysian hackers accused of targeting over 100 organizations | GOP senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal | QAnon awareness jumps in new poll House passes legislation to boost election security research 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.”