**This article was written in response to the COVID-19 pandemic
While the world is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, another crisis is developing out of public sight. With many schools, daycares, and businesses closing their doors, childcare is reverting back into the home.
People are being told to stay home in order to keep themselves and others safe.But the unfortunate reality is home is not always a safe haven for everyone. For many children, the doors being shut to keep out the dangers of the virus are the very doors that are trapping them inside with another very real threat – someone in their family.
Child Abuse Reports
On paper, the number of children being abused and neglected in Texas appears to be going down as the state reckons with the viral outbreak. However, those of us who work child abuse investigations know that is simply not the case. Although fewer reports of suspected child abuse are being called into the state’s abuse hotline, the truth is children are at a much higher risk of being abused during this global crisis.
The decrease in reports stems solely from a lack of eyes on the children. The majority of children that experience some form of abuse or neglect suffer at the hand of someone within their own home or family unit.These children rely on others such as teachers and doctors to notice signs of their abuse and report on their behalf. Due to social distancing and isolation, these signs are going unnoticed and unreported.
The Risk to Children
High-stress situations precipitate many child abuse incidents and the COVID-19 pandemic provides no shortage of stressful circumstances. Young children are being neglected and left unsupervised as desperate parents who are still able to attend work leave their children alone in order to make ends meet. Or parents are hiring babysitters who are not vetted and may be putting children in danger.
The heightened stress of income instability, food shortages, global health concern, lack of childcare and economic uncertainty combine to create a recipe for disaster for children in a household with an abusive guardian who may already lack self-control. The added stress is akin to adding fuel to a fire. Also, children and teens are now spending much more time online, which provides the threat of online predators having increased accessibility to sexually exploit them.
Child welfare workers see a decline in reporting every summer when children are home and anticipate an increase in reported cases once schools are back in session. We are seeing a similar trend in lack of reporting during this COVID-19 pandemic. In Texas, we are anticipating a surge in reporting once this pandemic has ended and children return to school and their regular activities, but we simply cannot sit back and wait for that to happen.
This global crisis is an unprecedented situation that will undoubtedly have catastrophic, and unfortunately, deadly implications for many children around the world. We must act now.
What You Can Do
Roxanne’s House is your local Children’s Advocacy Center serving both Hays and Caldwell Counties. We are calling on you, the public, to help us fight this unseen crisis. We must all be the eyes and ears for abused and neglected children in our communities.
- If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, make a report. Although the majority of child abuse reports are made by professional reporters, every adult in the State of Texas is a mandated reporter. Report your concerns to either Law Enforcement (911 if it’s an emergency) or Child Protective Services (by either calling the statewide hotline at 1-800-252-5400 or online at www.txabusehotline.org if you are in Texas). Your report could save the life of an innocent child.
- Check in using technology. Many people are utilizing video chatting apps like FaceTime and Zoom. This is a great way to make sure the children in your life are remaining happy and healthy.
- Be mindful of children’s increased online activities. Monitoring your child’s screen time and what content they are exposed to can decrease the likelihood that an online predator will gain access to your child.
- Encourage your children and teens to tell you if something is wrong with one of their friends. This could come up while chatting with their friends on various apps, or through games. Open and honest communication with your children is key.
You can be the voice for silenced children. Please join us in the fight against child abuse.