April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and despite our current situation, it is still important to take time to consider vulnerable children. In fact, this is an especially important year to highlight this issue.
Times Are Tough
The coronavirus pandemic has brought loss and stress to so many of us, and it is normal to not feel normal. Our community’s children are not immune to these difficult times, and they still need our help. In reality, there is heightened risk of victimization of this vulnerable population now.
Even the most stable, connected, and healthy families are struggling, so consider those facing job loss, housing instability and food scarcity. Being worried and stressed about how you are going to feed and shelter your family, while being confined to close quarters without respite and no end in sight can lead to tension, anxiety, desperation, violence and even abuse.
A Drop in Reports of Abuse and Neglect
Since the Stay at Home Order went into effect, child abuse and neglect reports have decreased significantly across Colorado, and we are seeing that here in Summit County as well. Children don't have the opportunity to spend time with trusted adults outside of their homes, like teachers and coaches. This can put them at greater risk, especially at times of high stress.
Risk factors for child abuse and neglect include social isolation, family stress, parenting stress, financial uncertainty and insecurity and the absence of child care or school. Families are now facing an increase in all of these risk factors. So it's very concerning that we are seeing a reduction in the number of reports, because we know abuse is still happening.
Now more than ever, it is important to come together and be supportive of children and families in need. The best way to prevent child abuse is to strengthen families. We have already seen Colorado act swiftly to provide a variety of resources, and we've witnessed our fellow community members offer support to neighbors or even strangers in need. This collective approach strengthens our response and recovery to COVID-19 and beyond.
Keeping Eyes and Ears Open
Community members and mandatory reporters can help support children during this time by taking notice and keeping your eyes and ears open. Many children and families are spending more time outdoors in their neighborhoods right now and more time online engaged in virtual learning. Despite social distancing, there are still opportunities to connect, ask questions, listen closely and know the signs.
- Maintain regular contact using video streaming to ensure you can see children.
- Use chat boxes, email and online messaging platforms. Children might be able to share something on these platforms that they can’t say out loud.
- Be aware and observant of children in your neighborhoods, and pay attention if you see something of concern.
- During this time, it’s important that parents take care of themselves, remain hopeful and ask for help when needed.
If you’re concerned about the safety of a child, ask yourself these types of questions:
If Not You, Then Who?
- Are you noticing that adult caregivers are under significantly increased stress?
- Is there physical violence?
- Does it appear that a family is struggling, perhaps with food insecurity?
- Does it look like the house is unsafe?
- Is a young child spending long periods of time home alone? Is a young child responsible for caring for siblings?
- Is there crying – especially endless crying – in the background?
- If you ask the parent or caregiver about any of this, how do they respond?
- Are your kids sharing something about their friends that concerns you?
If you witness or suspect a child is at risk or in danger, make the call. Calling to report a concern can be a way to connect a child and family with much needed support and resources. Do your part! After all, we are all in this together.
- For more information about Summit County’s local resources, visit https://www.summitfirc.org/.
- Colorado Crisis Services is available 24/7/365 if you need to talk. Call 1-844-493-8255.