Dip in Child, Elder Abuse Calls Raises Concern [April 7 OC Coronavirus Update]

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Orange County Social Services building in Santa Ana on March 19, 2020.

Orange County Supervisors on Tuesday were updated publicly on the latest virus-related numbers from county health care agency officials.


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As of 2 p.m. April 7, Orange County has 931 confirmed cases of Coronavirus. Of those cases: 15 people have died and 129 people are hospitalized (75 in intensive care units).

Yet County Social Services Agency officials simultaneously laid out a troubling drop in numbers for supervisors — a critical dip in case reporting about child and elderly abuse incidents.

Phone calls reporting potential child abuse cases dropped dramatically since schools have closed down, which drawing public concern from SSA Director Debra Baetz. Teachers are usually the front line reporters of suspected child abuse cases, and it’s mandatory they report any suspected abuse case.

“A little bit concerning to us is that our child abuse registrery has seen an approximatelly 44 percent decrease in calls coming into the registery. We believe that’s directly related to the fact that schools not in session and our educators are our primary mandatory reporter,” Baetz told county supervisors at Tuesday’s public meeting.

She said the Social Services Agency is working with emergency operations staff to ask teachers to check on their students’ wellbeing during the online class sessions many schools are holding.

Calls for elderly abuse also have significantly dropped off.

“Additionally, even more concerning to us is the fact that we have seen a 62 percent decrease in calls coming into our adult protective services registry,” Baetz said.

Orange County Community Resources director Dylan Wright said the department was able to call over half a million seniors “to let them know we have available resources for those who cannot obtain them on their own.”

The seniors were called in the languages they speak, using data from the Registrar of Voters, Wright said.

Both Wright and Baetz said their departments are working with emergency operation staff to iron out plans to address the abuse underreporting issues.

“I do want to point out that April is Child Abuse Prevention month because our children are not as visisible in our community today because of our stay at home orders. We encourage our community to remain vigilant and check on the general welfare of our children and their families,” Baetz said.

Meanwhile, the demand for relief is so great, that the Social Services Agency call center was overloaded and crashed Tuesday morning. Baetz said the relief line is expected to come back late Tuesday or Wednesday morning.

Scores of people across the state are struggling with slashed hours or layoffs due to the sweeping business closures to combat the virus outbreak.

An estimated 2.3 million Californians filed for unemployment, Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a Tuesday news conference.

Here’s the latest on Coronavirus numbers across Orange County.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.