Child Abuse Prevention Month: Helping caseworkers and at-risk families address and avoid child neglect

By Evelyn Ratnakumar

As households grapple with the consequences of COVID-19 on their lives and livelihoods, it is crucial that states invest in the right tools and technologies that prevent and address child neglect and help provide a safe, loving environment for every child.

The American Medical Association (AMA) calls ‘neglect’ one of the four major types of child abuse, the others being physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. It is also considered the most common of the four, as it comes in many forms and can affect children from all backgrounds.

But what exactly is child neglect?

According to the CDC , it is “the failure to meet a child’s basic needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care.”

Concerns in the COVID-19 era

The numbers are staggering but one must note these are from the pre-pandemic world. COVID-19 has upended a lot of set processes and routines that—even if didn’t completely mitigate the risks—helped in reducing, and, in many cases, avoiding situations that could result in a child being neglected or abused. In the pre-pandemic times, a child was a shared responsibility of the community (parents, schools, healthcare providers, and social workers). Once the coronavirus spread across the US, the status quo abruptly changed and parents and guardians became solely responsible for their child’s care.

The consequences of COVID-19 have strong links to child abuse and neglect, as anxieties about job loss, food and housing insecurity, loss of employment, and declining mental health of parents compound the problem.

And one cannot ignore neglect’s long-term effects.

The failsafe reporting mechanisms that existed before lockdowns are no longer as effective as healthcare providers and teachers are unable to call Child Protective Services as they do not meet the child often enough to see the signs of suspected neglect. This is where welfare agencies in the Health and Human Services play a huge role.

Equipping HHS agencies during COVID-19

As hotline workers see a decline in referrals calls, it is imperative for child welfare agencies to have the means and mechanisms required to proactively reach out to vulnerable families and children at risk of neglect. They must harness the latest technology in case management so that caseworkers can be more efficient and have all the information for follow-ups.

Cardinality’s child welfare platform helps several states by not only making case management workflows seamless for social workers but also provides the sort of insights that help supervisors and case managers to do more informed work

  • The proprietary Redbird AI surfaces at-risk households and communities by mining inter-agency data
  • The advanced tech stack helps make predictions about program outcomes and interventions in relation to socioeconomic markers of clients
  • Pen and paper documentation and disparate systems working in silos are replaced by efficient features like voice-to-text dictation and a central repository of documents, ensuring past cases can be easily referred to and checked on by caseworkers

But as the economic fallout and mental health crisis resulting from the pandemic wear on, government agencies need to do more to mitigate the issues leading to child neglect. Take, for example, the Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning (OECOSL) from Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA). The agency facilitates early child care, education, and out-of-school-time programs to constituents who are in need of some support—ideal for constituents who need some help to bounce back from pandemic-induced job loss and economic crisis.

Now more than ever, it is crucial that states invest in the right tools and technologies that help provide a safe, loving environment for every child.