FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) — Since COVID shuttered classrooms in mid-March, some students have been missing out on more than just an in-person education.

For some, school can be a sanctuary. Some, a place to be social. Others, the source of a routine.

Being away from any of those, though, can have adverse effects.

“Not having school, not being able to be with friends, like they normally would –people who were already at risk for those mental illnesses are definitely experiencing symptoms more,” Dr. Meghan Jordan, a pediatrician with McLeod Health, said.

She explained that there’s always been a need for a robust system of school counseling services, but the need may be ‘even greater’ after the pandemic.

“If not handled correctly, kids can have long-term effects from stress and trauma and situations like this,” Dr. Jordan said.

Kids though have for the most part been away from counselors since COVID closed school buildings. That has implications aside from mental health– who’s watching out for neglect or abuse?

“We believe there’s still child abuse and neglect going on that may be going unreported,” State Director for South Carolina Department of Social Services Michael Leach said.

It’s more than just counselors. Teachers, bus drivers and cafeteria workers- among others- are all mandated reporters of suspected abuse or neglect.

During the week of March 2 through March 8, there were 1,425 Child Protective Services intakes, according to SC DSS. That number was knocked down to 660 during the week of March 23 through March 29, after school buildings were closed.

“During summer our call volume is usually lower anyway and that’s across the country due to eyes and ears of educators, teachers, guidance counselors- folks in the school system who are not seeing children everyday,” Leach said.

Meanwhile, lead family advocate for Durant Children’s Center Tawanda Rouse says the cases that are coming in have changed.

“The severity of abuse, they types of abuse that’s being reported is much different than before the pandemic,” she said. “And that’s heartbreaking. The cases are more complex. They’re more challenging.”

Rouse added that the stress of the current climate only adds to the issue.

“Children who weren’t being abused before may be now,” she said. “Because adults don’t understand all the time how children are stressed. There external stressors and so they act out. And the acting out triggers the adult.”

AccelerateED has recommended districts implement a Mental Health Crisis Response Team to help students and staff find support.

Here in the Pee Dee, Florence One Schools describes its approach to mental health this year as aggresive.

“For all of our educators we’re going to give them sort of an upfront introductory training to trauma informed practices,” Clinical Coordinator for School Based Therapy Program Lisa Spears said. “As adults the first thing we need to do is listen.”

Click here to learn more about reporting suspected incidents of child abuse or neglect.

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