BY KRISTIN DUBROWSKI AND CHRISTINA WILSON || A year ago, the world changed in ways no one could have fathomed. By May, child welfare professionals like ourselves noticed a trend that brought pause – the decline of child abuse reports and investigations.
We weren’t the only ones watching the statistics. Child welfare experts across the country discussed the decline and what it meant for this country’s most vulnerable children.
The consensus was clear: mandated reporters did not have eyes on the children they normally would have helped protect.
Founded investigations for child abuse or neglect dropped dramatically during the second quarter of last year. In the months since, investigation rates have gone up and down, but the number of investigations in any given month have not exceeded the number of investigations done in the same month during the last three years.
Experience has taught us that child abuse increases in the wake of national disasters and that risk factors such as job loss and added stress increase the likelihood of child maltreatment.
We know that child abuse did not decrease during a worldwide pandemic.
Today, our concern continues to grow as reports of child abuse remain low and more and more children fall through the cracks. What can be done?
Each of us has the power to make a difference in the life of a child. These are some ways in which you can help:
First, pay attention to the children around you. Parenting is hard. If you see a family struggling, offer to help – all parents sometimes need a helping hand.
You could offer to clean or babysit for a parent who hasn’t slept in a week because of a crying infant. You could take an afternoon a week to play with a neighbor child to give his parents time to recharge their own batteries. If you have children yourself, form play groups.
Peer support from others walking the same journey as you often helps relieve stress.
Second, if you see something, say something. Call and report any suspected abuse or neglect to the Department of Social Services or local law enforcement. You are allowed to remain anonymous. Signs of abuse can range from bruises, burns or bites all the way to broken bones.
Abused children may exhibit unexplained anger, avoidance of eye contact, or inappropriate responses to pain. Signs of neglect can include young children being left home alone, frequent absences from school, a child who steals food or money, perpetual dirty clothing or body odor.
There is a wealth of information available online about the signs of abuse; we encourage you to educate yourself on those red flags and act as necessary.
Third, there are a multitude of free community resources available to help families. If you are a parent/caregiver who is struggling or if you know someone who is, please call us.
CAPA has programs such as the National Exchange Parent Aide home visitation program and Triple P parenting education. Hopeful Horizons offers supports such as the Strengthening Families Program and Parent Child Interaction Therapy. These programs provide tools to strengthen parenting skills and help build family resilience.
Lastly, remember child abuse prevention takes all of us. Paying attention to your surroundings, lending a helping hand, reporting suspected abuse, or recommending support services takes all of us. Wear blue this month to show your support. Share our social media posts to bring awareness to your own circle of friends. Reach out to CAPA and Hopeful Horizons to request free educational sessions about preventing child abuse. Consider donating your time, treasure or talent to child serving agencies.
The impact of the pandemic has been profound; however, it has also reminded us that we ARE in this together. Please join us this April – and year-round – to prevent and end child abuse.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Christina Wilson is the Executive Director at the Child Abuse Prevention Association in Beaufort, South Carolina. She received her B.S. in Financial Management from Clemson University and her M.S. in Public Administration from South University. After a fifteen-year career as a real estate paralegal, Christina made the shift to child welfare management for deeply personal reasons. After a twelve year journey through the Florida child welfare system as a foster mother, a relative care provider and eventually an adoptive parent, she recognized that this country’s abused and neglected children needed a louder voice. She was given the opportunity to be that voice in her own hometown as director of CAPA.
Kristin Dubrowski, MNM, is the Hopeful Horizons Chief Executive Officer. She has been working in the victim service field since 1999. Prior to her move to South Carolina in 2004, Ms. Dubrowski was the director of a domestic violence shelter in Denver, Colorado. She was hired by CODA (Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse) in 2004 and became the executive director in 2007. Upon the January 1, 2017 merger of CODA and Hope Haven into Hopeful Horizons, Ms. Dubrowski became the Chief Operations Officer.
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