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The D.A. calls for public awareness as calls to Oregon child abuse reporting hotline drop.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A screener at Oregon Department of Human Services works from her station at the centralized child abuse hotline center opened in 2018. As calls to Oregon's child abuse hotline plummet, the Multnomah County District Attorney is stepping up its public awareness campaign to remind everyone to be alert for potential neglect or abuse of children.

More than 20 professions in this state are defined by law as mandatory reporters of child abuse, including school employees — but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has severed ties between children and their teachers, coaches and counselors.

Gov. Kate Brown has shuttered all schools until April 28 to fight the novel coronavirus.

"We are very concerned that cases of child abuse and child neglect are going unreported right now," said Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill. "Now more than ever, we are all on the frontline of doing everything we can to protect children and that includes calling the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline whenever we suspect a child is being harmed."

The District Attorney's office likely is responding to reports in The Oregonian that phone calls to the state's child abuse hotline have dropped by more than 50% since schools shut their doors on March 16. Before the public health crisis, the state received more than 700 such calls each weekday.

Underhill wants the public to know that physical abuse — including a lack of adequate food, clothing, shelter, supervision or medical care — is still a crime and can still be reported.

If people suspect child abuse or neglect, authorities say the best option is to call 911. The state hotline for reporting child abuse is 1-855-503-7233.

"We all have an obligation to do everything we can to protect children and teens," Underhill said.

District Attorney's advice on how to help

Although children, teens and parents may not be physically interacting as much with each other due to social distancing requirements, there are still ways for everyone to help:

COURTESY  - The District Attorney's office has created this poster for citizens to share over social media.

• Continue to routinely check in with your kids and their friends to see how everyone is doing.

• Continue to check in with kids in your neighborhood and remind them about your willingness to help, especially if you've had prior concerns about abuse or neglect.

• Remind your kids to immediately report any friend-to-friend disclosures about abuse or neglect and then report that information to Oregon DHS or law enforcement.

• Continue to responsibly and appropriately supervise your child's social media use.

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