More than 23,500 reports of suspected child abuse ranging from sex trafficking to neglect were filed with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families in the past three months.
Instances of suspected child abuse, called 51A reports, are filed with DCF so the agency can investigate, and the number of such reports dropped significantly during the pandemic, as previously reported in the Herald.
The number of reports filed in both January and February hovered just above 7,000, and March saw an increase to 9,061 reports. The vast majority were for neglect, but reports were also filed for suspected sex trafficking, physical abuse and sexual abuse.
The 23,567 reports from January, February and March of this year are slightly above the 22,891 reports filed during the same time period last year, and are expected to rise as kids return to school, child advocates have said.
Mandated reporters, such as teachers, social workers and child care staff, are required by law to immediately report any reasonable cause to believe a child might be suffering. With kids out of in-person schools for many months during the pandemic, they had less contact with those meant to spot these problems.
According to DCF, abuse is considered any non-accidental act to a child that creates a risk of physical or emotional injury.
Abuse also includes any sexual contact between a caretaker and a child.
Neglect is the failure by a caretaker, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to provide a child with minimal care.
Within 30 days of receiving a 51A from a mandated reporter, DCF has to notify them in writing of its findings and the services that the department plans to provide to the child or their family.
In Boston, 2,131 reports were submitted during the three-month period, with the most coming from the Hyde Park neighborhood.
Southern Massachusetts saw the most reports of any region of the state, with a total of 6,549 filed, making up nearly 28% of all filings. Within the southern part of the state, the most reports came out of New Bedford, with 1,123 filings.
However, the greatest number of reports filed within any region of Massachusetts was 1,348 in the Lowell area, according to the data.
There were 24,455 Massachusetts children found to have experienced maltreatment in fiscal 2020, most as victims of neglect, per DCF data. That’s down from 26,549 in 2019.