The back-to-school season invokes a sense of new beginnings. This year, there is renewed excitement because so many students are returning to in-person classes. Some look forward to reconnecting with friends. Many hope this school year brings a sense of normalcy. And yet, others seek relief.

After all, school is a lifeline for kids living in unsafe homes. And school has not provided a reprieve for kids like these over the past 18 months. They have been isolated to a much higher degree than their peers. Stranded in darkness. Vulnerable in countless ways.

Data reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in mid-2020 estimates that at least one in seven children experience abuse and/or neglect. This statistic was before the national pandemic ushered in an unprecedented level of stress and strain on families. Before stay-at-home orders stranded at-risk children.

Henrico CASA has noted a slight dip in the number of cases before the Henrico County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. This was initially because court proceedings paused at the start of the pandemic. However, we believe it has continued because the county’s most vulnerable children have not been seen. Professionals (e.g. teachers, doctors, etc.) who are required to report suspected abuse or neglect have not been interacting with kids face-to-face.

In the coming months, we expect a spike in reports of suspected abuse. There will be more eyes on children. More professionals observing physical or behavioral indicators for abuse. Educators, specifically, have a unique opportunity. Their consistent interactions with students offer a window to subtle signs of trauma that are difficult to identify. Returning to the classroom provides more chances to detect and discern.

As we return to the routine of school life, pay attention. Don’t let a child go unnoticed. Your observations and your voice could be the difference between life or death for an at-risk child. Any and all concerned citizens, not only professionals, have the ability to report suspected abuse and/or neglect by calling Virginia’s Child Protective Services (CPS) Hotline at (800) 552-7096.