Reports of child abuse in Tennessee plummeted last year. That trend is beginning to reverse.

Staff file photo by Angela Lewis Foster / Blue pinwheels spin outside of Chattanooga City Hall on Friday, April 7, 2017, to raise awareness of child abuse. April is child abuse prevention and awareness month.

In the first week after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, the number of calls coming into a Tennessee child abuse hotline fell by more than a third.

It was the beginning of a trend that persisted throughout 2020, alarming child welfare officials and child advocates who feared that fewer reports did not mean there was less harm suffered by Tennessee children. They signaled, instead, that child abuse and neglect was happening unseen and unreported as children stayed out of school and out of sight of responsible adults who could intervene.

Now that trend is beginning to reverse, said Carla Aaron, assistant commissioner for the Office of Child Safety at the Department of Children's Services.

In the first two weeks of March, 4,677 reports of child abuse were called into the department's hotline, surpassing calls for the same time period in pre-pandemic 2019 by more than 300.