AUSTIN, Texas -- Kids are spending a lot of time at home right now and parents are, as well.
- Child abuse hotline received 1,300 fewer cases than last year in March
- CEO of Travis County CASA believes abuse is going unseen, unreported
- Volunteer says he's had to get creative to keep in touch
According to Child Protective Services, the number of new cases coming into the system is down.
That doesn't mean abuse and neglect isn't happening, it just means it's going unseen and therefore, unreported.
This March, the child abuse hotline received about 1,300 fewer cases than March of last year.
"Because kids are not in school, they're not at baseball practice, they don't have very many other eyes on them," said CEO of CASA for Travis County, Laura Wolf.
Wolf says the cases that are coming in now are extremely serious; either injuries that land kids in the hospital, or abuse that's reported by law enforcement.
She worries when things get back to normal and teachers and coaches once again see kids on a regular basis, there will be a flood of new cases.
As for the cases currently in court, they're still going on, though they look a little different and advocates for kids are having to get creative to keep up.
Like Bryan Smith, a CASA volunteer, who says: "It's tough to just stay really connected. I wish I could see him once every two weeks again."
Smith knows the key to getting any child to open up is simply spending time with them, doing the things they like to do. For the past two years, he's been visiting the teenager he advocates for on a regular basis.
"He's really into sports, he loves football, loves basketball," Smith said. "He's a Dairy Queen fanatic. He knows the entire menu, he knows what he wants to get the next time he goes."
Smith says those in-person visits are crucial when it comes to collecting information about the child's safety. But because of the pandemic, those in-person visits are now on hold.
"We would go to lunch together, we would go hang out together, and so he's really missing that," Smith added.
For now, the best Smith can do is talk with his teen on the phone.
"He's calling me more frequently now, sometimes it's once every other night. He was very forthright in saying about a month ago 'Mr. Bryan, do you know what a care package is?' I was like 'Yes, I know what a care package is', he goes 'Do you think I could have a care package?'" Smith laughed.
Smith is also having to get creative when communicating with the kids involved in his two short-term cases, who are both younger.
He's been learning as he goes, navigating the challenges of reading a book over FaceTime, while figuring out tricks with technology to make the experience more fluid. His repertoire now also includes virtual tic-tac-toe and performing magic tricks.
"Some stage theatrical stuff kind of helps, I think, bring them out of their shell," he said.
Wolf says now more than ever, children in the system need that voice in his or her corner.
"Their immediate world has shrunk dramatically," Smith said.
So yes, visits look a bit different these days, but their purpose remains the same.
"She knows, Thursdays at 10 a.m., she's going to see Mr. Bryan on the screen," Smith said. "The routine of showing up when you say you're going to be there is really important."
It's not just the visits that have gone virtual, but also the court hearings. All legal correspondence on these cases is now happening over Zoom or through email.
If you'd like to become a CASA volunteer, training is still going on right now and it's 100 percent online.
You can visit casatravis.org for more information.