As children return to school, cases of reported child abuse have increased—and teachers need better ways to help their students.
San Jose’s public safety committee, which includes numerous councilmembers and the county’s Children, Seniors and Families Committee, met Friday to discuss how child sexual abuse prevention measures can be handled more swiftly with cases on the rise.
The situation became apparent rather quickly, according to those who provide mental health support at the schools.
“From Sept. 1 to Oct. 31, we’ve seen an exponential increase in the reporting because the kids are starting to feel more connected and there’s a feeling of safety and trust being built with the children and the adults,” said Annya Artigas, the coordinator of mental wellness support services at the Alum Rock Union School District.
The district noticed that Alum Rock students living in ZIP codes 95122 and 95116 have a higher concentration of domestic violence and child sexual abuse reports, Artigas said.
According to numbers from the state Department of Education, the Alum Rock district has approximately 10,000 students enrolled across 21 elementary and middle schools.
Teachers, mental health counselors and school administrators who work with children are required by law to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect. Workers are given yearly training on how to report suspicions of abuse.
Some schools pre-COVID also had San Jose police officers on campuses who helped with the reporting. Alum Rock and East Side Union school districts removed cops from their campuses in 2020. San Jose Unified School District removed police over the summer before bringing them back for private security at campus events.
The San Jose Police Department shared concerns at Friday’s meeting that school workers had trouble identifying when an incident of abuse happened. Angelie Montesa, a crime and intelligence analyst for the Sexual Assaults Unit, offered a few solutions, including more communication between schools and the police department and having on-campus officers—something that has garnered controversy in the past few months.
“This is the reality of a challenge that should have been expected and one that we’re seeing,” Councilmember Raul Peralez said. He’s a former on-campus SJPD officer, who says he was able to report sexual assault claims quickly when he was on campus.
To report cases, workers can go to the police department, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office or the county’s Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS). Cases given to the DFCS eventually land at the desks of law enforcement.
According to a memo from the San Jose Police Department, going to the DFCS adds a delay for resolving cases. Cases that go directly to the department can be investigated right away, according to Montesa.
“As a mother of three young teenagers dealing with the pandemic, I can only imagine,” said Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco. “I think we’re just scratching the surface as children are coming back to school… the untold trauma is going to be a tsunami.”