In the past few weeks (Is that really how long it’s been? Only weeks, not years?), the coronavirus pandemic situation has taken center stage. We first watched New York, Seattle and other major cities get hit hard.
Then suddenly, it was on our doorstep here in DFW. Now, as of March 23, Dallas County is in shelter-in-place mode. And it’s scary. We can leave our homes only for work (deemed crucial) or to get essentials, such as groceries and medicine.
(Thank goodness we can still take a walk or run outside with the pups, given we’re six feet away from others.)
But what about those who are in a bad home environment? Those who are victims of abuse? When home isn’t safe, how do you stay home?
In fact, Sarah Burns, chief marketing officer for Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center (DCAC), expects child abuse to be on the rise at this time. “We know that abuse increases during times of stress due to uncertainty, financial burdens and interruptions in childcare and school,” says Burns. “We’re concerned for children who may be home with a physically or sexually abusive parent or caregiver, or children who may be left alone with someone a parent believes is a safe person, but isn’t.”
Burns says there also tends to be an increase in abuse because there isn’t a safe adult for kids to disclose the abuse to “since interaction with teachers and counselors and school nurses is halted or limited.”
Further, because of the increased time online during social distancing, children may have virtual interactions that could lead to victimization, according to Jamie Ginden, community relations manager at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County. “While school closures and mandated isolation is vital to the health and safety of our community, the sad reality is that it puts children at a far greater risk of abuse,” says Ginden.
And as soon as school activities resume, there will be a flood of reports. “With mandated reporters—like teachers—being away from students, reports of child abuse in Dallas County has declined some compared to the previous month,” explains Burns. “Without our mandated reporters, we could see extreme cases of abuse that may have otherwise been prevented with early reporting.”
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t seeing any cases now.
“Last week in Tarrant County, there were six cases of serious abuse of children all under the age of 4 who were treated at Cook Children’s Hospital, and tragically, two of those children did not survive,” Ginden notes. “We may not see the impact in numbers yet, but we anticipate seeing the impact in the near future.”
Thankfully, there are actions you can take to reduce the risk of abuse. “Children shouldn’t have to worry about being abused when their caregivers are stressed,” says Ginden. “It’s our job as adults to keep children safe. We encourage parents and caregivers to be proactive, and prepare their children and themselves for handling difficult situations.”
Ginden also notes that we should be aware that behavioral changes in children are completely normal during times of stress—just as they are in adults. “If there are any children you are concerned about, find creative ways to reach out to them and see if they are OK,” says Ginden.
One way to do that is by using the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, which has a resource guide for caregivers that helps you think about how a pandemic like this one can affect your family. Ginden also suggests childmind.org and Prevent Child Abuse America for other useful resources.
Burns recommends calling the National Parent Helpline (1-855/427-2736) for parenting tips and the Child Abuse Hotline (1-800/252-5400) to report abuse and neglect.
Remember: We are all mandated reporters—it doesn’t apply just to teachers or healthcare workers.
And Burns highly encourages individuals to get educated. “We need more adults educated on how to recognize and report child abuse, and how to keep children safe in the real and digital world,” she notes. “We have trainings available for free on our website.”
Use discount code SAVEJANE for the Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse training, and code GETEDUCATED for Keeping Your Child Safe in the Real and Digital World.
Be sure to check in on your loved ones too. “[Set up a] phone call or a time to video chat if possible,” Ginden suggests. “Parents and caregivers can share helpful tips that are getting them through this difficult time.”
And when social distancing is a thing of the past, consider volunteering for DCAC or the CAC of Collin County.
These kids are counting on all of us.
Image courtesy of iStock.