It is known all too well that in the last 14 months of coronavirus shutdowns, many are suffering with food and housing insecurity, job losses, isolation and the challenges of being educated from home with insufficient technology. But one issue not discussed as much is the falloff in the reporting of child abuse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has acknowledged reports of “increased severity of child abuse and neglect in some facilities.” It added that reports to child protection agencies have declined across the country from 20% to 70%.
An article posted on PubMed.gov confirmed that the economic consequences of the pandemic on employment in the U.S. “has impacted family relationships, particularly whether parents were likely to physically or psychologically abuse their children.”
And the Canadian publication BCMJ (British Columbia Medical Journal) reported that from a historical perspective, one serious consequence of pandemics has been “an increased risk of child maltreatment, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and exposure to family violence.”
Patricia Costales, a licensed clinical social worker, is CEO of The Guidance Center, a Long Beach-based non-profit agency that offers mental health resources to children and families. She, too, has been alarmed by the lack of child abuse reports.
“We can’t quantify the harm going on to kids right now,” she said. “During this safe at home period, calls have gone down by 50%. Abuse doesn’t go down by 50%.”
Costales said the reporting has decreased because the third-party eyes — teachers, counselors, after-school workers — haven’t had the opportunity to observe the children.
“This greatly concerned me,” she said. “We can’t identify the kids and get them the help. That’s the impetus for All Children Thrive (ACT). We want to let people know where they can go to get help.”
April is Child Abuse Prevention month, and ACT, in collaboration with the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services, has updated a website, LBUnplug.org, for parents to access free and fee-based resources that help to sustain a healthy, safe environment.
“We work so hard to prevent child abuse from happening,” Costales said. “Long Beach is lucky to have a health department that coordinates all these efforts. But when kids starting coming back to in-person school, I have concerns about what we (as social workers) will see in terms of the trauma experience; the trauma of being home and isolated from everyone and not being able to tell someone what has been going on.”
Costales, who has been with The Guidance Center for 13 years, said she had struggles in her home while growing up in Spain.
“School was a resource for me,” she said. “I had an amazing teacher in high school who encouraged me to get therapy. It was life changing to me and I have wanted to pay it forward ever since.”
The LBUnplug.org website is available in English, Spanish, Tagalog and Khmer. It includes a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section and provides links to a variety of resources.
“ACT predates the pandemic,” Costales said. “It’s an amazing effort to really ensure parents have resources they need to have a productive future. We are geared up to really help the kids of Long Beach.”