April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, an issue that has become even more vital to focus on as the COVID-19 situation will cause an increase in child abuse and neglect cases.
The CDC identifies a number of factors that could indicate an increased risk of child abuse, including:
- Social isolation
- Financial stress or instability
- Family stress
These identified risk factors have suddenly become a new reality for numerous families because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Families who were previously at low risk for abuse are now potentially experiencing social isolation, loss of income, and high emotional and financial stress. Families who were already vulnerable because of existing disadvantages like high poverty will feel these effects compounded in their lives.
Child abuse cases will increase in a crisis like this one, though we may not even know about them until this time of isolation is over.
So what can we do about it?
We can all become better friends, family, neighbors and community members right now.
While we can’t see each other in person, we can reach out to the families we know with children. We can check in to see how they’re doing and what they need. For kids who are old enough, we can offer to virtually babysit for our friends and family who’ve got kids cooped up in homes with too much energy that may be over-stressing parents who are juggling multiple roles and responsibilities like work, school and childcare.
Interacting with kids over FaceTime and video calls for 30 minutes to an hour might give their parents a brief break to get other things done while their kids are distracted by a “new person” to share their toys and games with. Some apps, like Facebook Messenger, even have built in games we can play to help keep kids busy for a while! We can be a supportive adult to help manage a child’s stress and fear over these calls so that parents don’t have to shoulder that alone.
If we’re in a stable place with the supplies and food we need, we can ask which of our friends and neighbors are struggling financially and in need of crucial supplies. We can find out who is sick or in a bad spot and needs us to order them groceries, or do a grocery or pharmacy run for them to drop off at their front door. The Austin/Travis County shelter-in-place order allows us to deliver necessary services and supplies to others.
We can start up a neighborhood chat group to ensure everyone’s in decent shape and staying connected with the nearby people who could be a crucial lifeline if someone is really struggling. No neighborhood group? Post on Facebook or Instagram that if someone is feeling stressed for any reason, they can privately message to discuss what they need to be in better shape. Facebook now has a "Request or Offer Help" feature to share with or secure needed resources from people in your area.
Most importantly, we can be there for our friends, family and neighbors to just listen and witness people’s grief and stress. This is one of the most supportive things we can all do to reduce risk. Right now we are experiencing collective trauma, and the best way to heal is through connection. But we have to take care of our own needs first to build our personal resilience in order to support others… we do have put on our own oxygen mask first.
People keep saying that social distancing is the wrong term right now. That we need to be physically distanced, but socially closer than ever. That’s the truth. If we’re going to help families who find themselves on the verge of a crisis, with risk factors for abuse increasing, we need to be as connected as possible. Let’s find the ways to connect and get creative in our emotional and concrete support for families so we can all help prevent child abuse.
If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer advocate to help children in the child welfare system, CASA’s recruitment and training process has moved online. Learn more on our website or at an online Info Session.
Article written by CASA of Travis County