Eyes Open: Child Abuse Reports Drop
By Dianne Anderson
Everyone is on lockdown in tight living quarters, which makes it hard to see or hear what’s going on with the kids behind closed doors.
In recent weeks since the start of the pandemic, reports and calls of abuse or neglect have dropped by 56 percent at Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, one indication that the kids may be taking the brunt of abuse in isolation.
Kimberly Trone, of RPSS, said the decline is not unexpected.
It usually happens when school lets out for the summer or long school breaks, but the agency is trying to raise awareness in the community to watch and listen for signs of distress.
Throughout the school year, the teachers, coaches, school counselors, peers and other parents have their eyes on the children, which makes up a large percentage of calls to the abuse and neglect hotline.
When school is out all those other eyes are no longer watching.
“All those community eyes, teachers and individuals who might otherwise be having contact with the child and reporting, they’re not seeing that child,” she said. “The drop off is unfortunate consequence of what happens when children are not in that social safety net of school and all the resources that come with it.”
Especially now, childcare agencies are asking the community to be sensitive. Abuse is more easily hidden during this quarantine.
The agency continues to respond to calls, and they are hoping to get the word out more broadly this month, Child Abuse Prevention Month. The social workers continue to investigate child welfare referrals and child welfare calls.
She said they are also making significant efforts to comply with federal, state and county orders and guidelines during this pandemic.
“We’re balancing everything. We are doing some contact by phone or video-conferencing,” she said. “But with child welfare calls when there are reports of abuse, we are going out.”
The agency’s preventative team of social workers also have personal protective equipment and gear to wear when they are called out on abuse or neglect calls. They are working closely with community, faith based and governmental partners, such as First 5.
She said the duration that children will be isolated at home during this event without those usual community safeguards is concerning.
“Right now, more than ever, family members, neighbors need to be watchful and checking in as very best they can through phone and facetime visits. And, please, report suspected child abuse and neglect,” Trone said.
Each year, over 700,000 American children are abused, according to the National Children’s Alliance, a child advocacy organization. UNICEF also reports that the most common form of violence that children face takes place in the home.
“What happens when those children can’t leave home, cut off from teachers, friends, or protection services? And as millions of children turn to digital technology for a path to the outside world, how do we keep them safe from the risks and potential harmful consequences online?” the agency asks.
Gov. Gavin Newsom released his state proclamation declaring April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, he states that many families are up against numerous stressors, and children may be especially vulnerable to health risks, school closures, isolation and economic instability in their families.
“Without the structure and safety of school, children who were already vulnerable to abuse and neglect at home face a greater threat. Similarly, we recognize that many parents who have lost jobs and income due to the COVID-19 pandemic may be feeling overwhelmed and strained,” he said.
The proclamation calls for everyone to keep an eye out for the kids and immediately contact 911 if a child is suspected to be in danger. Overwhelmed parents are also encouraged to call 211, or their local county mental health crisis line, or any Warm Line mental health service to talk or get help.
That call in or text help service has expanded from its original outreach in San Francisco, and is now funded statewide over $10 million and staffed daily.
“We live by the wisdom of Frederick Douglass, that it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults. Now more than ever, we must all do our part to help build strong children and protect them from harm,” Newsom said.
Anyone who has safety concerns for a child, call 800-442-4918
For help, or to talk to someone, call or text the Warm Line at 855-845-7415