Community Hope Centers - Identifying the Need
For questions or additional information,
please email Keili McEwen with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Identifying the Need
In late winter 2020, Oklahoma and the nation confronted a novel coronavirus, COVID-19, about which little was known. As a result, in-school operations ceased, and schools moved to distance learning after Spring Break. At the same time, nationwide reports of abuse and neglect to states’ child welfare hotlines were approximately 35% below prior-year levels. During times of stress, actual abuse and neglect are likely greater due to resource scarcity and uncertainty. The unprecedented reduction of abuse and neglect reporting can be attributed almost exclusively to the fact that children were not in school, where teachers and other school staff have regular opportunities to observe them and report potential abuse.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma State Department of Education share the concerns of child welfare systems across the nation – how to reach at-risk children when COVID-19 disrupts in-person instruction, and how to provide students and families the resources and supports they need to mitigate the stresses of financial uncertainty and other pandemic-related challenges.
As school districts offer remote learning options in response to the pandemic, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify children as vulnerable and deploy resources to their families to help minimize the issues that contribute to abuse and neglect. Further, families who have suffered catastrophic financial loss due to COVID-19 are less likely to have the resources to overcome systemic barriers that would allow them to re-engage in the economy. Poverty is building in our communities, and children and families need supports more than ever to overcome learning loss, hunger, homelessness, isolation and other adverse circumstances. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the state’s community organizations are beginning to serve clients with these concerns, resulting in increasing reports of abuse.
Existing high levels of childhood trauma are quickly worsening in Oklahoma communities, necessitating an aggressive response. It is imperative that our service agencies build alternative support networks that will allow children and families access to the resources they need to thrive.
At the beginning of the current school year, approximately 30% of families indicated that they would choose a virtual learning option if provided. Subsequently, large school districts have either amended their back-to-school plans from full-time, in-person instruction to a blended model or have begun the school year virtually. Remote learning is not as successful as in-person education, potentially resulting in learning loss and further educational inequitie