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County Seeing Increase Of Child Abuse Reporting

Reports of child abuse are starting to increase both locally and across the country.

“When COVID hit, we saw a decrease in reports to child welfare … because we had mandated reporters in schools that were closed,” explained Leanna Luka-Conley deputy commissioner of Adult, Child and Family Services in Chautauqua County. “Agencies were no longer doing face to face so those mandated reporters were no longer coming in contact with those kids.”

Luka-Conley spoke during a recent county Board of Health meeting. She noted that recent reports of abuse have increased.

“Agencies report an increase in mental health, there’s an increase in substance abuse, there’s an increase of domestic violence. A lot of kids are starting to share their stories,” she said.

She also noted that there’s an increase of homeless youth and they become a target for human trafficking.

Her office has identified 127 youth in the county that are at risk of being trafficked, with 81 of them targeted as “high risk” and 20 of them meeting the federal definition of being trafficked. Of the entire group, the average age was 13 years old and 89% of those individuals were female.

“Since COVID, youth have been engaging in more technology use, so we’ve really seen an increase in risky, on line risky behavior with youth being groomed and solicited to,” she said, noting that they’re being sent sexual images electronically.

Her office is working with county school superintendents to share resources and data on students at risk. “Once (schools) are full time we’re going to have a lot of children that are going to have some real issues that we have to work on,” Luka-Conley said. “This is a real opportunity for schools and child welfare to really coordinate services and work together.”

Christine Schuyler, county public health director and commissioner of Social Services, said agencies are seeing a huge gap in education. “We used to call it the summer slide. We’re going to be seeing the pandemic slide and right now they’re saying children are about two years behind in education compared to pre-COVID,” she said. “We thought this year of dealing with the pandemic was rough but we’re going to have many years ahead of us to try to put the pieces back together after this. It’s going to take all of us to do it.”

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