Florida’s first lady warns of COVID-19 effect on families

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Gov. Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis and child-welfare advocates warned Friday about the toll the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on some families.

During a discussion on COVID-19 and mental health in Sarasota, Casey DeSantis expressed alarm at a drop in calls and referrals to Florida’s child-abuse hotline. She noted a 40 percent drop, which she said amounts to 20,000 fewer calls. She also said child-abuse investigations have dropped by 44 percent and pointed to a 32 percent decline in calls reporting sexual abuse.

The concern is that abuse is not being reported during the pandemic. Casey DeSantis said it is important to not just focus on numbers and said she could not “put into words” what is happening to children in the state.

“When you see victims of abuse as young as 2, babies, it’s too much,” said Casey DeSantis, who gave birth to her third child this year.

Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell stressed that calls always go down by one-third in the summer because children are out of school. Teachers and school resource officers are required to report to the state when they suspect that children are being abused. But the pandemic forced school districts to shift to distance learning in March, and teachers stopped having direct contact with children.

“We are very concerned about it at the department,” Poppell said. Poppell said he was worried about the mental health of some students as they return to school. Several districts opened their doors this week, although parents are being given the option to have their children attend school online.

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