A Call to Action: Children Are at Heightened Risk of Abuse During the COVID-19 Crisis
By Professor Marci A. Hamilton, Esq. | Founder & CEO, CHILD USA
I understand that everyone is stressed out. For those who had been daydreaming about “working from home” while sitting in their offices two weeks ago, the shift to actually working full-time from home is, well, disconcerting. And I also understand that right now cute kitten and puppy dog memes are more welcome than more doom and gloom. I agree!
But let me forge ahead with what nobody wants to know but everyone needs to hear: this new social reality to address COVID-19 is dangerous for many children. While it is generally true that children have milder cases if they get the virus at all, there was an infant who died in China and dozens of children who contracted it and landed in the hospital. Story HERE There are, however, other factors endangering children from our new social reality.
In times of crisis, the suffering of children typically increases. Rates of abuse and neglect go up. For example, rates of sexual assault increase against girls and women following natural disasters. Sexual violence is common in settings involving humanitarian crises. And children are among the most vulnerable during times of humanitarian crisis.
The child sex abuse crisis that has emerged over the last 20 years has taught us one thing for certain: children are radically vulnerable, and they are most at risk when they are alone. Think about it: the kids alone in the confessional, in their coach’s car, in their doctor’s examination room, at home alone with a tutor, or at home with an abusing parent have little capacity to protect themselves. With schools closing, children have lost a network of other adults that are charged with securing their safety (though we obviously know some don’t….). It’s not just the cancellation of school: for the time being, there are also no more after-school programs or extracurricular activities in groups or worship services and Sunday school. Safety nets are disappearing.
For many kids, this will be a joyful time of extra attention from mom and dad. But not for all. For some families, this kind of stress will heighten tensions and violence already present. Increased stress on adults can result in negative outcomes for children. Increased financial stress on the family also puts children at higher risk of harm as you can see here.
Parents and society at large need to be hypervigilant about who is taking care of children and attentive to what children are telling them, as CHILD USA explains here. There is also a role for the government.
This blog post is a call to action: Contact your Governor and state lawmakers for the sake of protecting children. They need to prioritize the prevention of harm to children – especially those kids who are already under the watchful eye of the state because there is a history of violence or abuse. There are anecdotal reports that parents are refusing entrance to state workers doing wellness checks due to a lack of personal protective equipment, and likely because they figure they can in this era. For the sake of the children at risk, these state workers must be able to do their checks, which means they, like health care professionals, need protective gear so that they can enter a home safely. At the same time, also ask your state Governors and lawmakers to be aware that economic pressures often result in increased abuse and neglect of children. This is no time to be less vigilant about children’s health and safety.