Here we are again. A second go-around with what was likely considered the unthinkable just a year ago. But as health experts predicted, the 2nd wave of the pandemic has hit us with more fortitude and fury than the first. As a result, schools and sports are shutting down. While this move may be necessary from a public health crisis perspective, we shouldn’t be so quick to narrow our definition of public health crisis to a transmittable virus. The shutdown and isolation intended to flatten the curve, will inevitably cause a spike in child abuse and neglect. Marry that with the stress of the holiday season, a tumultuous economy and cold weather and the detrimental grip of the COVID crisis grows tighter.
The Chadwick Center in San Diego reports, as of October 2, 2020, that Child abuse pediatricians have seen an 82% increase of outpatient visits and 75% increase in inpatient consultation since the government mandated shelter in place orders began.
Here’s what is really scary. These staggering increases are happening despite DECREASED reporting; an indication there is likely a large population of children who are being harmed but not helped. Their injuries are subtle enough not to be recognized over school Zoom calls or outside, socially-distant visits. Injuries and abuse which may not require immediate medical care but none-the-less have long lasting, physical and psychological consequences.
None of us wants this. No one wants kids to be home from school. No one wants the pandemic to continue raging around us, sickening and killing loved ones and disrupting the social order of life. No teacher wants to worry when their student is missing from virtual classrooms for days at a time, or a pediatrician hasn’t seen a patient for his or her yearly check-up. But this is where we find ourselves. So, what can we do to prevent child abuse?
We must do what we have all been doing since March, as exhausted and stressed as we all are, we need to soldier on because our most vulnerable children need soldiers. This is after all, a war. But this army is not made up of just parents, teachers and coaches but all of the moral adults in our communities. This is not the admirable thing to do, it is the only conscionable action. Inaction and complacency equate to enablement.
The winter months are approaching and it’s going to get trickier. Kids are going to be indoors, many still trapped with their abusers. Remain vigilant and please do not wait until a child is hurt to intervene. Be proactive and focus on prevention.
If you have already made connections in your community with families having difficulty now is the time to strengthen those connections and reach out to help. Here are some more ways to take action:
- Schedule a weekly zoom “playdate” for kids to get together and participate in an activity so you can get eyes on the kids in your community.
- Organize a book exchange in your neighborhood. You can drop the books off safely and get kids reading as well as check in with kids and their families.
- Organize a neighborhood food drive for families who need help.
- Ask local youth sports leagues to donate their facilities and schedule a regular, socially distanced in-person activity.
- Watch for signs of children in distress: appearing anxious, withdrawn, silent, physical marks that can’t be reasonably explained and or personality changes
- If you suspect there is abuse call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)