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Rauls: Child abuse more likely to go unreported during stay-at-home orders

For some children in Texas, home is not a safe place to be.

Since mid-March, much of the nation has been under some degree of “stay-at-home” orders. On March 31, Texans were asked to stay at home—except for essential workers—and school moved online. Like some of you, this meant I began homeschooling kids, managing a job and an organization remotely, while trying to interpret this new normal. On April 17, it was announced that schools would not resume regular operations for the remainder of the year, and social distancing was still very much encouraged, even as parts of the state began to reopen at the end of the month. While these efforts have been imperative to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, they have also fueled unsafe conditions for some children.

Due to social distancing and the suspension of regular school and many childcare centers, children are at home where child abuse is more likely to go unreported.

Across the state, local children’s advocacy centers have seen the number of reported child abuse cases decrease, but child abuse hasn’t abruptly subsided. Many cases are actually going unreported, and, in some cases, the severity has worsened. 

While we continue to navigate this new “normal” with at-home education and modified camp experiences that will continue into the summer, it’s important that we all come together to support and protect children who are facing this danger.

Teachers and other school officials were often the first people to report suspected child abuse. In fact, educators are among the top reporters of child abuse in Texas. They see these children every day and can notice some of the warning signs, such as unexplained injuries, changes in school performance and lack of personal care. Educators remain integral for reporting suspected child abuse even as their regular operations and those of daycare centers have been temporarily suspended. For educators working with students online, it’s still imperative to look for and notice the warning signs of child abuse and sexual abuse. If there are students you have worried about in the past and you believe might be more at risk under shelter at home, check on them more frequently.

It’s also become apparent that while we’re all staying home more, we need to rely on people in untraditional roles to report suspected child abuse. Package delivery people and mail carriers are more important than ever, as are grocery store workers and other essential workers who see children accompanying families into their businesses more frequently. These workers may see the same families over and over again and can notice patterns of behavior.

Understanding these signs of abuse is especially important since it is unclear when children will be able to return to their classroom and other activities.

We must also do our best to support parents who are facing a lot of unique challenges.

There’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to finances, job security, childcare and more. It is an extremely stressful time, and we understand that stress can result in unplanned actions that are hurtful to others. When stress is high and support and social connections are low, parents might be more likely to lash out in ways they ordinarily wouldn’t.

It’s crucial for us to recognize and acknowledge these feelings and proactively identify healthy ways to cope with stress, such as giving yourself some grace when things don’t go as planned, taking news breaks, asking for help, and talking to your child, among other self-care techniques.

We should all look out for other children in our lives—neighbors, friends and relatives—during this time of crisis as well as check in on the mental health of our friends and family now more than ever.

Above all, no matter what your role is, if you have reason to believe a child is being abused, you have the obligation to report it. If you suspect a child is in immediate danger, call 911. For all other safety concerns related to child abuse or neglect or sexual abuse, please call the Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400.

Together, we can help protect children from abuse at home.

 

Click here to see this opinion piece featured in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. 

Did you know:

Out of 59,919 child victims served at a CAC in Texas during state fiscal year 2019: 65%

of these children are female.

Report Suspected Abuse
Call 1-800-252-5400 or 9-1-1
www.txabusehotline.org