MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Students return to class in a matter of days, and sadly, new statistics show some of those children had a difficult summer vacation.
Breaks from school throughout the year become a target time for children to fall victim to abuse, both physical and sexual. That is ringing true for child advocacy centers across the state who investigate claims of child abuse, traditionally seeing an increase in the weeks leading up to and following the start of a new school year.
Child Protect in Montgomery has already seen an increase; in fact the number of cases in Montgomery County alone is up 20 percent.
Executive Director Jannah Bailey says often primary caregivers pick up on a change in the child's behavior after spending time away on vacation, at camp, or other summer activities. Specifically, if a child's behavior changes substantially toward another person.
Bailey encourages parents not to shy away from talking to young children about this issue.
"Children three, four, and five years old are old enough to understand wanted touches versus unwanted touches," Bailey stated. "We are always so good to say, 'oh, go hug them, give them a big hug,' we need to let them choose whether or not they want to hug someone or be around someone."
In other situations, Bailey says victims of abuse may feel more comfortable opening up to friends or teachers at school.
"We are a week away from school starting, that's when children start talking to teachers, telling friends about the summer," Bailey explained. "Sometimes things will come out that is not a good summer vacation."
Teachers spend the most waking hours with children, and often are their first line of defense as a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse.
Bailey reminds teachers their legal duty is to report the evidence immediately.
"Sometimes there's some confusion," Bailey said of the state's mandatory reporting laws. She gave the example, "Johnny says he fell off the bike and maybe he really did, maybe I need to look for more evidence."
"As mandatory reporters, our job is just to suspect the abuse," Bailey stated. "So if we suspect Johnny has been abused, we report that and leave the investigation to the Department of Human Resources and law enforcement because that's what their expertise is in."
Bailey encourages any teacher who may need more information or who wants to discuss making a report to contact Child Protect to talk through the issue. That number is (334) 262-1220. To report suspected suspected child abuse to the DHR in your county, here is a list of numbers.
Any suspected child abuse should be reported to local law enforcement or DHR.