HELENA, Mont.- This month marks Strengthening Families' Month across the state of Montana, as the state looks to highlight the resources available to combat child abuse in the Treasure State.
While we may never know the full impact that COVID-19 has had on reporting child abuse, this week saw various groups draw attention to the issue by placing pinwheels around the Capitol.
One of the biggest underlying challenges associated nationally with COVID-19 has been the underreporting of child abuse and neglect, but reporting of cases has stabilized since the early stages of the pandemic.
A spokesperson for the state's Department of Health and Human Services tells me that this past year, the number of calls unfortunately increased by just over 600. Lt. Governor Kristen Juras says the rise is something that the Gianforte administration is taking seriously.
"It should not happen here. It should not happen anywhere, but sadly, it does. Governor Gianforte and I are committed to doing all we can to support Montana’s families and to reduce incidents of child abuse and neglect."
On a more encouraging note, the state has worked to decrease the number of children in care, and I am told that number has decreased from 4,000 in 2018, to 3,031 children today.
"By taking small steps together every day, we can realize our common goal of supportive and thriving communities, strong and stable families, and safe and healthy children," Juras added.
While the number of calls to the child abuse hotline in Montana has gone up since the pandemic began, national experts are concerned that a nationwide decrease in calls is not something to celebrate, but rather a sign of cases being underreported.
With children potentially at increased risk of abuse or neglect since teachers, doctors or parents of friends are not seeing them, all of whom are identified as common reporters of abuse.
If you know an instance of child abuse or neglect taking place in Montana, you can call the state's hotline at 1-866-820-5437.
The state’s Child and Family Services website can be found here.