As winter sets in and COVID-19 continues to spread, shut-downs and stay at home orders drag on. The added stress, isolation, and remote learning that comes with trying to keep everyone safe from the disease could be creating a different danger: increased physical and emotional child abuse from parents under pressure.
All across the country, calls reporting suspected child abuse and neglect are plummeting. In April and May of 2020, there were 40% fewer reports to the California Department of Social Services (CDSS). That may sound like a good thing, but fewer calls doesn’t mean less abuse is happening. In fact, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it could mean just the opposite.
Earlier this year, Pennsylvania doctors reported a wave of more serious injuries in younger victims of child abuse and neglect. Dr. Lori Frasier, chief of the Penn State Children’s Hospital child abuse pediatrics division called it a “surge,” saying they were “seeing pretty serious physical abuse injuries” including fatal head and abdominal trauma from physical child abuse. Nearly a third of that hospital’s cases were toxic ingestions of illegal substances resulting from lack of supervision and parents using drugs in the home.
In Los Angeles County, California, dramatic declines in reporting came at the same time as an increase in domestic violence incidents resulting from the state’s stay-at-home orders. Both domestic abuse of spouses and partners and child abuse tend to increase when stress is on the rise. According to Dr. Frasier, unemployment due to COVID-19 layoffs and needing to have one parent at home to take care of the kids create “a big source of stress” that can lead to increased incidents and more severe forms of child abuse.
At the same time, kids don’t have access to the watchdogs who usually step in to protect them. In normal years, teachers, doctors, police, and social workers act as the front lines in preventing and reporting child abuse and neglect. As mandatory reporters, teachers make up about 20% of all reports to Child Protective Services.
Now schools are closed to reduce the spread of the virus. Kids are learning remotely, often through video conferences with their teachers in group settings. This doesn’t give them the opportunity to speak privately with their teachers about what’s going on at home. It also limits teachers’ ability to observe bruises, family interactions, and child behaviors that would clue them in to abusive situations.
The CDSS has created resources for teachers and telehealth professionals about spotting abuse online, but there is still only so much they can do without physically seeing and interacting with children.
With doctors, counselors, and teachers moved to the sidelines, it is essential that every adult help to protect the children in their lives from child abuse by their parents. Relatives, neighbors, childcare providers, religious leaders, and family friends generally make up less than one fifth of CPS reports. However, any of them could be the trusted adult that a child turns to for help. When that happens you can:
It can be scary to ask for help if you are the kid or teen being hurt. You may be worried your parents will get mad at you or that you’ll be taken away from them. But it isn’t okay for your parents to hurt you. If your parents are hitting you, hurting you, or making you feel sad, guilty, or ashamed, you have the right to get help. Here are some tools you can use to protect yourself and get your parents help with their troubles:
• Call 9-1-1 right away if you are in danger
• Tell someone you trust what happened (even if the person hurting you says it’s a secret)
• Call 1-800-4-A-CHILD anytime
• Text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453
• Go to childhelp.org to message someone for help
• Contact the California Parent & Youth Helpline by phone, text, or chat at 855-427-2736
• Make a safety plan with an adult you trust
There is help available for kids and the people who care about them. At ADZ Law, LLP, we know how to protect children from abusive parents and others who would commit child abuse against them. We represent the victims of crimes to make sure they are protected and their voices heard in court. We also represent children directly in child custody cases involving domestic violence and child abuse, making sure their best interests are served. We invite you to contact ADZ Law, LLP to schedule a consultation to learn more about our team, and how we can help you.