Just days after schools, child care, and after-school programs closed, child abuse reports across California drastically decreased. This is not good news — it is cause for deep concern. Vulnerable children at risk of abuse are “sheltering at home,” possibly under extremely difficult conditions.
Even at the best of times, parenting is really hard, and during a crisis can be completely overwhelming — currently at a magnitude few of us have ever experienced. With the added anxiety of loved ones contracting the virus, fear of losing jobs and income, inability to pay rent, severed community connections, and the need to survive in small, cramped spaces — family stress and tension are at an all-time high.
Child abuse increases during stressful times, so there should be more reports not fewer. Sadly, the voices of our children cannot be heard right now during this time of extreme isolation. Without the protective eyes of the teachers, coaches, and doctors, who work with vulnerable children every day, we are not learning about what may be happening behind closed doors. Now, more than ever, these children need caring adults, like neighbors and other family members, to pay attention and take action. It’s time to speak up, to pick up the phone — it is your business.
As we can see from what’s happening across the world, protecting children is everybody’s business and we are all accountable. The United Nations reported that “Hundreds of millions of children around the world will likely face increasing threats to their safety and wellbeing – including mistreatment, gender-based violence, exploitation, social exclusion and separation from caregivers — because of actions taken to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Communities across the U.S. such as Illinois are reporting fear of increased abuse. Texas has reported a spike in cases of severe child abuse linked to the virus.
If you hear a child screaming or crying frequently, notice young children being left alone for long periods of time, or suspect children are being harmed in any way, call for help. You do not need proof of your suspicion. Even though it’s hard, especially during these challenging times, we all must make protecting children our business.
At Children’s Bureau, we are successfully engaging families in a compliant manner through teletherapy, videoconferencing, email and telephone. Here are additional resources to use and share:
- If you suspect that a child is being abused, make a confidential report anytime by calling the local hotline at 800.540.4000 or 1-800-4-A-CHILD [National]. You can find the contact number for other local child welfare agencies at Child Welfare Information Gateway. If there is an emergency or you believe a child or someone in their household is in imminent danger, call 911.
- If you suspect domestic violence, you can contact the crisis line at 877-751-0880 or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233), which offers support in 170 languages. If there is an emergency, call 911.
- If you or someone you know needs support, call the National Parent Helpline at 1.855.427.2736. Here’s a link to resources in California.
- For families in Orange County, visit OC Social Services for support or to report child abuse.
- When a family is struggling, reach out, and see how you can help.
Innocent children will be hurt unless we take a stand and help. Thank you for your partnership.
Dr. Ronald E. Brown is President & CEO of Children’s Bureau of Southern California, a nonprofit leader in the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. He oversees all aspects of the $50 million agency that serves 50,000 at-risk children and parents in 20 community sites throughout Los Angeles and Orange County.