Concerns are rising in Iowa the COVID-19 pandemic is allowing child abuse to go unreported while making it more challenging for people trying to get out of abusive households.

Mary Ingham is executive director of Crisis Intervention Services, which serves 15 north-central Iowa counties.

She says more people are reaching out through email and texts because they’re unable to get away from an abusive family member.

Ingham says, “Two months ago, most people could find a time that they could be alone, when their partner is gone or maybe they’re running errands, and people just aren’t moving like that anymore.”

Ingham says Iowans should regularly check in with friends and family members to make sure they’re safe. They can contact victim services programs to find support and safe housing.

Since the pandemic forced schools to close, child abuse reports have fallen, but advocates fear it could mean some abuse is being overlooked.

Amanda Goodman, executive director of the Family and Children’s Council of Black Hawk County, says she’s concerned numbers are down because many people who make reports are school employees.

Goodman says, “I’ve encouraged all the teachers and administrators to reach out to families once a week not only talk to the parents, but ask the child and give them that safe place.”

Much like Ingham, Goodman encourages everyone to keep in contact with their neighbors and report any suspicious activity to authorities.

A report from the state ombudsman’s office in April found child abuse reports to the Department of Human Services fell more than 16% from February to March — when schools across the state closed.

(Reporting by Natalie Krebs, Iowa Public Radio)