Unfortunately, whether it is the current crisis we are all facing or another one in the future, when families are stressed there is a higher propensity for child abuse.
AWAKE Children’s Advocacy Center works to prevent child abuse and intervene when it occurs. We work closely with representatives from child protective services, law enforcement, prosecution, mental health and others to ensure children get what they need in crisis.
At our monthly multi-disciplinary team meetings, we discuss how child abuse reports tend to increase after children return to school after holidays and summer breaks.
One reason for this is that children may not have a trusted and safe adult to report to at home. As soon as they return to school, they are finally able to talk.
Another reason is that parents, caregivers and other relatives are forced to be in close quarters and there may be added stress over family dynamics and financial strain. With the current policies in place to stay at home as much as possible, and with school out, our team is bracing for the potential aftermath.
So, what can we do to reduce stress in families during this time, and prevent child abuse from happening?
Prevent Child Abuse N.C. notes five protective factors that reduce risk of abuse: parental resilience, social/emotional competence of child, knowledge of child development/parenting skills, concrete support and social connections.
When it comes to resilience, we need to recognize which parents struggle the most. Parents who cannot cope well with everyday stress will especially be struggling during this time. Make sure to call and check in frequently with those folks. Let them know it is OK to take a break from their children to catch their breath.
Make sure the children are safe and step into the next room for a few deep breaths. Social and emotional competence in a child has to do with having a consistent caring adult in their life. So, when calling family, don’t just ask what the child did that day, dive deeper into conversation and show them that you care.
Another factor is parenting skills, and there are many free resources out there for learning new strategies. One website that has multiple resources for parents is empoweringparents.com. Learning about why your children behave in a certain way helps to increase understanding and reduce frustration.
The next is concrete support for families. Help families to reduce stress where you can: grocery gift cards, gas cards and words of encouragement all go a long way. There are many helping agencies out there offering this kind of concrete support right now. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them for help.
Lastly, social connections are important for both parents and children. This is the time to be creative about positive social connection. Turn off the news and stop looking at Facebook and try these instead: go outside for a walk, allow your child to video chat with a group of friends, have an indoor egg hunt and set a special time to Facetime with family members each day. These are just a few ways to keep social connections while respecting social distancing.
One thing to remember is to give yourself some grace and try to incorporate fun in every day.
Many parents are facing being fulltime stay at home, work from home, homeschooling parents right now. The reality is that we can’t be good at all those things all the time. If you are feeling overwhelmed to the point of yelling at or hitting your child, step out of the room, take a deep breath and call someone for support.
Don’t turn an already stressful event into a traumatic one. If you are a caregiver or other relative and have concerns about a child being abuse, please report it to the Department of Social Services and law enforcement. They are still providing services, along with AWAKE.
As a community, let’s ensure children are as safe as possible during this time.
Paige Gilliland is the case manager and forensic interviewer for AWAKE Children’s Advocacy Center.