Less cases of child abuse and neglect are being reported as online learning introduces new challenges for staff to connect with students in unsafe home environments across Montgomery County. Unfortunately, this isn’t a sign that domestic abuse is declining, but an indication that injuries aren’t being seen. Mr. Gregory Edmundson, Director of the Student Welfare and Compliance Unit for the MCPS Board of Education, was disheartened when the average twenty-two cases per day withered down to two or three.
“We’ve dropped significantly; it’s a very great concern now that teachers aren’t able to notice the signs,” Edmundson disclosed. The county has had to adjust to the fewer eyes on students and the limited view of a webcam. As Student Compliance and Welfare continues to work closely with external agencies like the police department, such barriers have been addressed with an increase in home visits and welfare checks for at-risk students to make up for what can’t be viewed over video.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Lisa Merkin, head of Child Welfare Services (CWS) for Montgomery County, reported a similar drop in child abuse or neglect investigations. Child-protective workers from CWS launched a total of 244 investigations in April 2019, compared to only 38 in April of this year. Merkin cited a direct link to fewer allegations from day-care workers, teachers, counselors, and medical professionals, who have been vital in their ability to view signs of trauma, and have less of an ability to do so in the current situation.
Edmundson detailed the actions of the county in addressing these concerns. “We’ve adjusted training with regards to these signs– newly revised protocols, what the signs could look like virtually– we have much more people in tune with the welfare of our kids,” Edmundson stated. Despite the new challenges in the ability of MCPS teachers and staff to pinpoint signs of abuse and neglect, the county has proven to be vigilant and is developing new paths to ensure student safety.
In addition to abuse and neglect, student mental health has taken a toll, possibly as a result of the decline in physical activity and social interactions as well as the increased screen time that comes with virtual learning. A recent study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, listed PTSD, depression, and anxiety as possible impacts on adolescent mental health as a result of the pandemic. “Adolescents are vulnerable and require careful consideration by caregivers and healthcare system adaptations to allow for mental health support despite the lockdown,” the report concluded.
The staff at PHS have been working to combat threats to student health and by providing such support.
“Students have had many reasons for poor student engagement,” Counselor Nelly Boishin noted. “It’s harder to build relationships when we are virtual.”
Tuesday homeroom lessons provide coping strategies for students to utilize as the pandemic continues for a seemingly indefinite period of time. Homework-free weekends have been initiated to provide a break from work, and some teachers continue to share check-in forms in which students can rate how they’re doing and share any problems.
In response, new forms of communication have become key in the school’s ability to monitor its students. Boishin outlined the many steps the school has taken to fortify outreach and mitigate challenges to wellbeing. Teachers have been encouraged to have open communication with the counseling department and report any concerns. Parent and/or student meetings are held daily by the counseling department to determine solutions to a student’s problems.
Educators across the country have had a limited time to adjust and no past experience to base their decisions on, but at Poolesville, efforts are being made to provide a supportive environment for the students.