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Morning Notes

A heron flying above Lake Audubon in Reston (photo by Marjorie Copson)

County Seeks Feedback on Covid Response — While the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, Fairfax County is starting to evaluate how it handled the crisis. The county government is conducting two surveys — one for the community and one for businesses — to gather feedback on people’s experiences. The surveys are available online and at county libraries until July 5. [Fairfax County Government]

Fairfax City Community to Weigh in on Street Renamings — “Fairfax City Council is hosting a public hearing at its regular meeting Tuesday night to solicit feedback on a proposal to rename 14 streets in the city whose current names are associated with the confederacy, slavery or the ‘Lost Cause.'” [Patch]

Trash Pile Fire Extinguished in Lorton — “Units are on scene of a large outside trash pile fire in the 9800 block of Furnace Road, Lorton. The fire is contained but crews are working to fully extinguish it.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

Learn the History of Juneteenth — Author and University of Maryland history professor Dr. Richard Bell will discuss the history and significance of Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery in the U.S. As of last night (Monday), there are still openings for the hour-long, virtual presentation, which will start at 6:30 p.m. and requires advance registration. [FCPL]

Lincolnia Fire Started by Unattended Cooking — A townhouse fire in the 4500 block of Southland Avenue on Friday (June 10) displaced five people and caused approximately $77,747 in damages. Investigators determined that the fire was started accidentally by “unattended food cooking on the stove” in the kitchen. [FCFRD]

Vienna Eases Rules for Roofs Over Decks — “The Vienna Town Council voted tonight to amend the zoning ordinance to enable homeowners to upgrade their outdoor living space by putting a roof over up to 400 square feet of a deck under certain conditions. For more details, visit http://viennava.gov/zoning.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

County Urges Vigilance for Signs of Child Abuse — “Fairfax County is asking community members to be on the lookout for possible signs of abuse and neglect, now that kids are out of class…Twana Johnson, assistant program manager, child abuse & neglect prevention services at the Department of Family Services, says as child supervision declines during summer months, so do calls to the hotline.” [WDVM]

FCPS Program Teaches Kids How to Ride Bicycles — “33 schools participate in the program, including both elementary schools — which typically have 30 bikes and 40 helmets on hand at a given time. [Safe Routes to Schools coordinator Sally] Smallwood estimates 10% to 20% of FCPS students in grades three to eight do not know how to ride a bike.” [ABC7]

It’s Tuesday — Rain in the morning. High of 83 and low of 72. Sunrise at 5:44 am and sunset at 8:37 pm. [Weather.gov]

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A school bus in Vienna (file photo)

(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) A former Fairfax County Public Schools bus driver and an attendant have been charged with abuse and neglect after a 3-year-old kid was injured on a ride home from school, police reported today (Monday).

According to the Town of Vienna Police Department, its officers were called to a school bus stop on March 18 in response to a verbal argument between the bus driver and a parent, who requested that their kid be taken to a hospital by Fairfax County firefighters.

“It was later determined that the 3-year-old special needs child had suffered a severe head injury,” Vienna police said.

Rqia Tabite, 36, and Teresa Wessells, 70, both residents of Falls Church, have been charged with one count each of abuse and neglect of a child — a class 4 felony in Virginia — after a Vienna police investigation determined that they had “failed to provide proper care to the child,” according to the news release.

The department says the investigation was done with “the full cooperation” of FCPS, which launched an independent follow-up investigation. An FCPS spokesperson told FFXnow that Tabite and Wessells are no longer employed by the school system.

Fairfax County Child Protective Services also conducted an investigation.

Vienna police obtained warrants on May 19, and Tabite and Wessells were arrested on May 20 by the Fairfax County Police Department. They have since been released on unsecured bonds.

“The child is not being identified at this time but is at home with his family and is receiving necessary treatment,” the VPD said.

In a separate incident, a former FCPS bus driver remains under investigation by Fort Belvoir after allegedly slapping a student on March 16.

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The Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Reports of child abuse and neglect in Fairfax County have fluctuated wildly during the COVID-19 pandemic — based primarily on whether students are attending school in person or remotely.

Prior to the pandemic, Fairfax County Child Protective Services conducted 2,216 family assessments and investigations in fiscal year 2019, which ran from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, according to the county’s Department of Family Services.

Those are the procedures used to respond to reports of child abuse and neglect, including physical abuse and neglect, mental or emotional abuse, medical neglect, and sexual abuse by a caretaker. Reports are screened by CPS’ hotline staff before a specialist is assigned.

Most reports deemed valid trigger a family assessment, but some require an investigation when the safety concerns are immediate, according to DFS spokesperson Angela Morlu.

The number of assessments and investigations dipped slightly to 2,113 in fiscal year 2020 (July 1, 2019-June 30, 2020) before a more substantial decline to 1,878 responses in fiscal year 2021.

“This decrease is almost exclusively due to a reduction in reports from schools (primarily due to the COVID pandemic’s impact on in-person instruction),” Morlu told FFXnow by email.

With nearly all Fairfax County Public Schools students resuming in-person classes this past August, reports of child abuse and neglect have skyrocketed. At the current pace, the county will reach 2,500 assessments and investigations for this fiscal year when it ends on June 30 — surpassing both pre-pandemic numbers and the 2,088 responses projected at the beginning of the year.

“Reports are increasing primarily due to the increased visibility of students returning to in-person instruction,” Morlu said.

Like at other public school districts, FCPS employees are required by state law to report suspected child abuse and neglect. When schools closed statewide in March 2020, the Virginia Department of Social Services saw a 98% decline in child welfare calls from schools, with calls from all sources dropping 45% between February and April 2020.

However, a national study released in October 2021 found that physical abuse of school-aged children tripled between March and September 2020, and the nonprofit Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) of Northern Virginia reported an increase in the severity of cases during the pandemic.

The isolation of the initial months of the pandemic created similar challenges for addressing domestic violence, which increased globally in 2020 to the point where the United Nations called violence against women in particular a “shadow pandemic.”

In Fairfax County, police reported a slight decrease in domestic assaults last year compared to 2020, but an uptick in adult children killing family members contributed to an increase in homicides.

According to DFS, more than 2,600 kids in Fairfax County got involved with Child Protective Services during fiscal year 2021. The CPS hotline received approximately 11,000 calls specifically for protective services, the Board of Supervisors said in a proclamation designating April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“Child abuse and neglect cuts across all demographic areas and impacts our entire community,” DFS says on its webpage for the occasion. “We know through research that adverse childhood experiences like child abuse result in long term health impacts and increased costs to society.”

The month’s theme this year is “Words Matter.” The county encourages the community to raise awareness about the issue of child abuse and urges parents and caregivers to build up their kids’ “sense of worth.”

Anyone who’s concerned about a child’s well-being, wants to report or talk about a possible abuse or neglect situation, or needs counseling and other resources can contact the Fairfax County Child Protective Services (CPS) Hotline at 703-324-7400, TTY 711.

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