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Ava Lerario lived in a home marked by both love and chaos, even before the walls of the pandemic started closing in on her fractured family.
Sandwiched between two brothers, the 9-year-old was her father’s princess, and she loved to snuggle up with her mom to read. She sometimes lugged her favorite stuffed animals all the way to the bus stop, where she never hesitated to share toys or books, or befriend a new or lonely kid.
But neighbors noticed she and her brothers didn’t play outside. Protective services visited their home at least twice, in 2019, over reports of potential abuse of Ava’s younger brother. Her father, Marc Lerario, had an explosive temper. Her mother, Ashley Belson, struggled with drug addiction and considered leaving him.
But she didn’t dare take Ava. If she left with his favorite — the one who shared his strawberry blond hair and could calm him with a smile — Ashley feared he’d kill her.
In the end, Ashley wasn’t the only one who died. Tattooed Bookworm Don’t Stereotype Shirt, hoodie, tank top
An Associated Press analysis of state data reveals that the coronavirus pandemic has ripped away several systemic safety nets for millions of Americans — many of them children like Ava. It found that child abuse reports, investigations, substantiated allegations and interventions have dropped at a staggering rate, increasing risks for the most vulnerable of families in the U.S.
In the AP’s analysis, it found more than 400,000 fewer child welfare concerns reported during the pandemic and 200,000 fewer child abuse and neglect investigations and assessments compared with the same time period of 2019. That represents a national total decrease of 18% in both total reports and investigations.
The AP requested public records from all 50 state child welfare agencies and analyzed more than a dozen indicators in 36 states, though not every state supplied data for total reports or investigations. The analysis compared the first nine months of the pandemic — March to November 2020 — with the same time period from the two previous years.
And there are signs in a number of states that suggest officials are dealing with more urgent and complex cases during the pandemic, according to the analysis, though most child welfare agencies didn’t provide AP thorough data on severity.