Lessons from the pandemic to ensure children’s safety during other crises

By Evelyn Ratnakumar

As virtual classrooms are phased out for in-person learning, some of the challenges child welfare agencies faced while checking on abuse, neglect, and maltreatment may reduce. But there is a need to create solutions that handle similar issues where students remain home--a place that poses great risk for many children. A look at how Cardinality’s solutions can help family case managers tackle concerns arising from unforeseen situations like the pandemic lockdowns and are equipped to handle any crisis that comes their way.

With the pandemic forcing all schools to shut down in 2020, the education system and all its stakeholders dealt with many hardships and went through a massive learning curve in the process.

2020 was not business as usual for kids but we are not completely out of the woods in 2021 either.

Even as the Biden administration takes action to get children back to school, it will be awhile before 100 percent in-person learning becomes possible in every school in the country. Meanwhile, children have adapted to virtual classrooms, but this new way of learning has child welfare workers concerned. Many kids are not living in households with parents invested in their education. Some lack even the basic security that a home should offer.

The pandemic witnessed a sharp decline in calls to child protective services hotlines. A decline in reports of child abuse and neglect should be celebrated, right?


What COVID-19 taught us

The Missouri Department of Social Services observed a whopping 50 percent decline in calls to the hotline since the pandemic began. This development is worrying authorities as severe cases of child abuse and neglect may go unreported and, consequently, uninvestigated.

Critics of homeschooling have long observed the dangers of a child getting education from within their home. They say now that children living in at-risk households and from low-income families are especially vulnerable, but that is not all.

Due to the uncertainty of our times, the economic stressors of COVID-19 have put kids of households with no prior history of abuse or neglect too at a higher risk.

Nearly 700,000 kids are abused in the US every year and the indisputable fact remains that most of these children are victims of abuse at the hands of a parent.

Abuse, of course, varies, but what is worrying child welfare authorities is the lack of visibility that usually comes with an institutionalized school structure. Due to the limitations of a virtual classroom, teachers have been unable to discern if a child is not attending online classes because of spotty Wi-Fi or as a result of parental neglect. This has earned child welfare agencies the ire of well-meaning parents who have been erroneously pulled up.

While schools are reopening, the pandemic revealed the gaps in our child welfare case management during remote learning that will need addressing in order to make the system foolproof for any such adverse situations in the future.

So, what we have learnt from 2020 and how can we use those lessons as guiding principles while designing child welfare solutions?

Make everyone mandatory reporters

When unforeseen circumstances arise and teachers--the biggest pool of mandatory reporters--and other mandatory reporters like pediatricians and dentists are unable to do their part in child welfare, it becomes imperative for everyone else to chip in. All citizens, whether they are State reporters of child abuse or not, should have the means to call child abuse hotlines.

So, child welfare agencies need to spread the message that that the onus is on anyone who suspects child abuse to report it to the State. This includes neighbors, babysitters, and family members as well. Creating easy ways to report is the best way forward in situations like COVID-19 lockdowns.

Data-first approach to checks

It is crucial that the agency has the sort of information that helps it take proactive steps, especially for at-risk, low-income households. This would help case managers to check up on kids already in the system or those vulnerable to abuse and neglect under the circumstances. They can understand if this is a temporary case of neglect due to the stresses of situations like COVID-19 or if there exists a pattern of abuse that needs serious intervention. They can then take measures accordingly.

How Cardinality’s child welfare platform helps

A sound technology-driven approach is the need of the hour. Case managers and teachers simply cannot bear the huge responsibility of keeping our children safe even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Cardinality’s child welfare platform helps not just caseworkers deliver mission-critical services effortlessly to families in need but also equips every concerned citizen to do their bit.

Making reporting easy

The sharp decline in calls coming through the hotline during lockdowns was worrying, but a platform like Cardinality, which has a citizen-facing portal, can tackle this gap anytime in the future.

The app’s slick UI interface removes any hindrance that comes in the way of a concerned citizen doing their duty to ensure a child’s safety and well-being.

AI-enabled insights for informed action

Cardinality’s AI and machine learning models help case managers have critical information at their fingertips. The platform interacts with other systems, both State and Federal, and the proprietary Redbird AI surfaces past cases and at-risk households who may be in need of a visit. Cardinality’s Child Support platform covers an important demographic: single parents, who may be finding it difficult to cope in difficult times.

Moreover, Cardinality’s structured decision making tool will also let the case manager what course of action may be required based on various parameters like age, disability, race, location, child’s special characteristics, parents’ priors and occupation, etc; some households may just need some financial assistance or temporary help while other situations may need more serious interventions, like removing the child from the home.

Even as we collectively work towards a future of 100 percent in-person learning for school children, it is pertinent to note that investing in the right technology for child welfare case management will ensure our children are safe wherever they are: at home, in school, or in the community.

Schedule a demo with us to see how we can help your agency provide the best care to children in need.