Abuse amid pandemic: Chattanooga area numbers show fluctuating picture

Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / A sign is attached to the outside of a counseling room to let others know the room is in use at the Family Justice Center Wednesday, July 3, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The center provides help to victims of abuse.

When Hamilton County Schools shut down in March of 2020 to pivot to online learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, Patricia Russell said that she saw reports of suspected child abuse begin to drop, just as she had feared.

For Russell, the district's director of social emotional learning and K-12 school counseling, low numbers reflected high instances of missed signs of child abuse.

"Did we have concerns around our students' safety? Of course," she said. "Most people would think, 'Oh well, these numbers are reporting [that child abuse] went down,' but that was due to a lot of our teachers that see them Monday through Friday, seven and a half hours a day - they were not able to [see them in person]."

The concern about abuse during the pandemic wasn't limited to children.