SARASOTA (CBSMiami/NSF) — Gov. Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis and child-welfare advocates warned Friday about the toll the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on some families.

During a discussion on COVID-19 and mental health in Sarasota, Casey DeSantis expressed alarm at a drop in calls and referrals to Florida’s child-abuse hotline. She noted a 40 percent drop, which she said amounts to 20,000 fewer calls. She also said child-abuse investigations have dropped by 44 percent and pointed to a 32 percent decline in calls reporting sexual abuse.

The concern is that abuse is not being reported during the pandemic.

Casey DeSantis said it is important to not just focus on numbers and said she could not “put into words” what is happening to children in the state.

“When you see victims of abuse as young as 2, babies, it’s too much,” said Casey DeSantis, who gave birth to her third child this year.

Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell stressed that calls always go down by one-third in the summer because children are out of school.

Teachers and school resource officers are required to report to the state when they suspect that children are being abused. But the pandemic forced school districts to shift to distance learning in March, and teachers stopped having direct contact with children.

“We are very concerned about it at the department,” Poppell said.

Poppell said he was worried about the mental health of some students as they return to school.

Several districts opened their doors this week, although parents are being given the option to have their children attend school online.

DeSantis also said 75 percent of 18 to 24 year-old’s reported at least one mental health symptom.

The governor says Florida needs a plan to face these issues long after the pandemic is over.

“I think kinda the big enchilada in all this is an important issue even before this, but now with this I think we’re gonna be dealing with ramifications involving mental health for a long time. So we need to be prepared to face this head on,” said Ron DeSantis.

The Governor said Florida increased spending on mental health in public schools by $25 million for a total of $100 millions.

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