The last few months of various levels of isolation and quarantine have been a challenge for all of us, I know. For my family, the additional time together hasn’t always yielded the best results. We’ve been more impatient with one another, struggled through some conflict, and had to problem solve in new ways that we didn’t have to before quarantine. Yet, ultimately, we all feel safe and loved.
But this is not the case for so many in my community and around our world. For many families, the level of stress has soared to its highest levels. With employment changes—either forcing parents home or leaving parents unemployed—the toll on family life has been hard. Combined with fewer outlets for childcare and extra activities, families are at risk and have fewer eyes on them to make sure everyone is safe.
As we move towards the school year—whatever that looks like in your area—more kids will be seen and heard. With that lens, my friend and today’s guest, Molly Evans, talks about how to spot warning signs of abuse and neglect. It’s not easy to talk about, but if we’re going to care for families, it means speaking up so that more support can be given.
HERE ARE MY 3 TAKEAWAYS FROM OUR CONVERSATION:
1. Abuse and neglect haven’t stopped with the pandemic.
Numbers would tell you that abuse and neglect cases have decreased with the rise of COVID-19 and its consequences for society. Following the shutdown mid-March in Illinois, there was nearly a 50% decrease in calls to the child abuse and neglect hotline in the state. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, though. In fact, it’s more likely that this is the case simply because fewer mandated reporters like doctors, teachers, daycare providers, and law enforcement officers have been able to see children during this time. And that is where my heart hurts. It means children are being abused or neglected without anyone there to protect them. Particularly in cases of sexual abuse, we know this often occurs in isolation when children are home with family members or close family contacts. As we move away from life behind closed doors, Molly expects to see a surge in cases in late August or September as children are again seen.
“We do expect to see a surge in cases.”
2. Call the child abuse and neglect hotline in your state if you see warning signs.
While not every bump or bruise is an indication of abuse, nor is every instance where a child complains of hunger neglect, we must be present and aware to notice patterns and injuries that are outside of typical injuries for a child. Look for stories that don’t make sense or when a child struggles to explain what has happened. Take note of when a child talks about their living condition. Do they have adequate food in the home? Are their utilities on? Are they being taken to the doctor when they have an injury? Gather the information. Then, make the call. It’s the hotline worker’s job to screen the call and ask good questions. If the call rises to the level of a report being made, they will follow the procedure so that an investigation is done. Just because an investigation is done doesn’t mean that a child will be taken from the home. It could be an opportunity for a family to receive the services they need apart from removal.
“The reputation [of child protective services] is just that people go and take people’s kids, and that’s not the case. There are so many layers to that; there are so many services that can be provided to prevent that.”
3. Families need help.
We must combat the darkness around us with light. This season has not been easy, and families need love and support before abuse and neglect become temptations. It’s our job to report abuse and neglect when we see it. Safety is a priority. We also have opportunities to care for families before that’s reality. Be intentional with those families that are around you. Notice when they need extra support. Show up. One of the greatest gifts of starting TFI has been to walk alongside people in times of great need to say, “I see you. I care for you. I am with you in this.” Ask how you can help and then follow-through. And when we’re not able to intervene before abuse or neglect occurs, we can still take that same mentality and show up for families and foster care workers who are now walking through trauma. Something as small as offering new bedding for a worker to give to a child who has just experienced sexual abuse makes walking through the hard a little less painful.
“What can you be doing—outside of the world of child protective services—to help your neighbor?”
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