“People have been… in their houses and have been cooped up during this COVID issue and the children haven’t had the same access to services that they normally would,” said Staff Sgt. James Repesse, head of the interpersonal violence section.
Many reports of assault and neglect come from schools, he said, with teachers noticing warning signs or students disclosing abuse to peers or guidance counsellors.
While an increase in reports is likely, Repesse said he doesn’t anticipate a huge influx of complaints come Sept. 8.
“We’ve tried to maintain as much normalcy as we could in making sure that as many of these kids that are victims don’t slip through the cracks,” he said, noting the social services ministry has maintained contact with at-risk families throughout the pandemic.
“We’ll have to see what the… increase is, but typically when kids do go back to school, they do have more access to adults that they come to trust.”
SPS child abuse investigators have seen this trend before, he said, with reports of abuse typically increasing once students get back from summer break.
“Anecdotally, I can tell you that we’re definitely going to see an increase, but as to why it’s going to be increased, I don’t want to throw it all on the COVID doorstep,” he said.
Online learning helped keep some students connected to trusted adults before the summer break, but Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Patrick Maze said that had some serious shortfalls.
Assessing a child’s well-being through a computer screen is challenging, he said.
“And some students, due to inequities in their own family situation, didn’t have access to participate in online learning from mid-March to the end of June,” he added.
“That’s one… aspect of getting back to face-to-face instruction, is that teachers are looking forward to knowing that their students are well and healthy and that they’re being looked after.”
Teachers have a duty to report suspected abuse to a principal or guidance counsellor, he said.
The social services ministry advises people concerned about the well-being of a child to contact them or a First Nations child and family services agency.