Child abuse cases in San Luis Obispo County saw a drop during the pandemic, but with in-person schooling starting back up, SLO County child advocacy group C.A.S.A. — Court Appointed Special Advocates — said they are preparing for an influx of child abuse cases. C.A.S.A. of San Luis Obispo County is made up of volunteers designated by a judge to work in the best interests of children who have been victimized by abuse or neglect.
Teresa Tardiff, executive director of C.A.S.A. SLO County, said during the pandemic, child abuse cases took a plunge.
“Right now, there is about 330 kids and young adults that are in our system," Tardiff said. " And in 2019 at this exact time we had 462, and that number had been consistent for many years.” Tardiff said the decline wasn’t because cases weren’t happening, she believes they just weren’t being reported.
“Many of those cases come in because of mandated reporters, which are typically teachers, therapists, school counselors," Tardiff said. " Somebody who sees the kid notices something is going on and makes a report.” Although children were still seeing teachers virtually for school, Tardiff said it may have been harder for teachers to catch any potential abuse through a virtual setting.
“We would expect that if there was abuse and neglect going on," Tardiff said. " That it’s going to be more obvious in an in-person setting for a teacher, rather than what they would have seen over Zoom.” Tardiff said child advocacy groups nationwide have reported similar declines through the pandemic, and that the SLO Department of Social Services is advising C.A.S.A. to prepare for an influx of cases once in-person learning returns in fall.
“We are really preparing for that," Tardiff said. "We’ll be ready to take on whatever comes.” While C.A.S.A. takes in applications for potential volunteers on an on-going basis, Tardiff said now more than ever C.A.S.A.’s throughout the Central Coast could use people 21 years of age and older who are interested in becoming a court appointed special advocate. “There is a C.A.S.A. program for every county," Tardiff said. " You are provided a lot of support and you can really make a difference in a child's life.”