By Carolyn Gusoff

BETHPAGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork)Child abuse reports are significantly down in our area in 2020, but that doesn’t mean cases are on the decline.

In fact, it’s just the opposite.

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As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reports, the numbers are jolting. Reports of severe physical and sexual child abuse to the Safe Center in Nassau County dropped precipitously in 2020, from 473 to 278. But no one thinks that means incidents are actually down.

“We know the abuse is happening, it’s just the reports are not coming through,” said Keith Scott of the Safe Center. “Many of our school professionals are just seeing children through Zoom or other web-based platforms. You can only see from the neck up or chest up. You don’t get a feel for what a student is going through.”

Across Long Island, reports of child abuse are down 15%. New York City reports are down 21%. Thousands of cases are unreported, experts believe, because with schools shuttered, teachers, school staff and coaches are not seeing signs of child abuse.

“If anything, we think instances of child abuse and neglect may actually be on the rise,” said Dr. Jeff Reynolds of the Family and Children’s Association.

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Reynolds says increased stress due to the pandemic is to blame.

“We have seen first hand the stress and anxiety associated with COVID. That depression, that frustration, that being behind closed doors. The drug and alcohol abuse on the rise. All of those things lend itself to increase rates of child abuse and neglect,” Reynolds said.

Agencies have been doing more outreach, teaching community members to recognize red flags. School districts like Plainview-Old Bethpage are training teachers to notice subtle changes in a virtual world.

“We really are relying on careful monitoring of attendance, engagement while they are on their Zoom or Google meets, when they are in person really taking a close look at students,” said Dr. Mary O’Meara, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage school district.

Members of the public who suspect child abuse can call 911, or see the links and numbers below.

  • New York: Call 1-800-342-3720. For more information, CLICK HERE.
  • New Jersey: Call  1-877 NJ ABUSE (1-877-652-2873). For more information, CLICK HERE.
  • Connecticut: Call 1-800-842-2288. For more information, CLICK HERE.
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Carolyn Gusoff