TULSA, Okla. — While many school districts are trying to protect students with distance learning, sometimes home isn’t the safest place.
Steve Hahn, vice president of youth programs at The Parent Child Center of Tulsa, said with schools out, reported child abuse was down 43 percent this April compared to last April. There was also a 27 percent decrease in reports this May compared to last May.
“We’re concerned that, when students are outside of the view of teachers, of counselors, of coaches, of those types of people who would be normal reporters, that child abuse is going underreported in the state of Oklahoma," Hahn said.
The Parent Child Center’s “Kids on the Block” program typically serves about 40,000 students in pre-K through 6th grade each year. It uses puppets to educate them about how to get help when there are such problems as abuse, neglect or bullying.
“So, we approach topics with these puppets that are hard to talk about in person," said Kurt Bennett, Kids on the Block Program Coordinator. "It might be hard for a child who’s in third or fourth grade to talk about bullying candidly with an adult coming in and asking them questions about it.”
With the pandemic keeping students home, the challenge now is how to reach them. So, the center is taking its puppet show online. It’s creating a mixed program of live and recorded presentations and interacting with parents, teachers and students.
Hahn said every time they give their presentation to students, a child comes forward with a story of abuse.
“We look for red flags in questions that kids ask," Hahn said. "So, an example of that could be, you know, my dad is beating my dog. What can I do to get help in that situation? So our ears perk up in that situation.”
“You hear things maybe a student says that they aren’t receiving any food," said Stephanie Andrews, interim executive director for Student and Family Support Services at Tulsa Public Schools. "Like that’s something to investigate and support them with that need and to see what it is.”
TPS officials are also figuring out how to help those students in need.
The district is giving resources and professional development training to staff and teachers. Students can anonymously report or can leave messages for teachers through their online accounts. The district is also implementing wellness teams to check on students who may be struggling.
“The student who often has some difficulty with attendance or maybe some behavioral challenges," Andrews said. "Just checking in to make sure that all is well with those students and their families and making sure they might not need greater support.”
Another big reporter of abuse? The public. If you see something, say something.
You can report to the DHS hotline by calling 1-800-522-3511.
For more information about The Parent Child Center of Tulsa, click here.
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