Recently, there was a report that the number of child abuse reports was down 40% in the state of Indiana. Normally, those numbers would provide us an opportunity to celebrate, but unfortunately, we know those numbers paint a different picture. Since Shelter-in-Place took effect in the middle of March in Indiana, families have been huddled together in order to stay healthy and to slow the spread of COVID-19. Although those measures had to be enacted, there was also the underlying fear of what that would present to families and children who were living in abusive situations. Pre-COVID, families who were already living in abusive situations at least had some outlets and ways in which to receive assistance or to be noticed. During the past two months however, there have been few opportunities for families, especially children, to be observed or to have a method by which to ask for help. Reports of child maltreatment typically come from youth serving entities…schools, camps, after school programs, etc. All of those safeguards have been closed during this pandemic. Those of us in the child welfare arena reached out to more non-traditional partners, such as store and Pharmacy staff, food delivery services, postal workers, neighbors, animal control, to please pay extra attention since they would be the ones still out and serving the community. We reassured everyone that they were all essential in the mission of keeping children safe.
As we begin to slowly transition back into our respective communities, there is still one group that will remain somewhat hidden, and that is our children. Not only do youth serving activities remain closed or limited, now even most schools who were at least seeing children virtually have ended for the summer. That means one more safeguard has been removed. There are still many in the community however on whom we can rely. Family and friends are beginning to see each other in person now. Please be extra aware of how your family is holding, and has held, up under the recent stress, especially if you had prior concerns. Educators, as you begin to wrap up your virtual time with students, ensure that you provide resources for families that they can use over the summer. There may be virtual support groups or websites that may be helpful. Telehealth, including mental health, services are also available. There also continues to be food services accessible to families. Those of you who are aiding in that process, please be prepared to watch for signs of stress or maltreatment as you come into contact with children and families. Barbershops and hair salons are beginning to open. We ask that those who work in those settings be willing to serve as a resource. Perhaps have materials in your shops or at your stations so that people may look at them while getting their hair cut. If you have relationships with certain customers, ask them how they are doing. We continue to ask food delivery and postal workers to be vigilant as they travel through neighborhoods. If you see or hear something suspicious, report it. This includes any maltreatment of animals that you may witness, as we know there is a correlation between animal abuse and abuse toward humans. Ice cream trucks are now going through neighborhoods. If you are an ice cream truck driver, please be aware of what may be going on with the children with whom you come in contact. Those of you reading this article, if you know you have service delivery in your neighborhood like ice cream truck drivers or postal workers, print out helpful materials for them, including the DCS hotline number (1-800-800-5556).
We all must continue doing the essential work in keeping our children safe. The treatment of children is everyone’s business, and we must remember the situations in which some of our children still find themselves…locked away with their abusers with no one able to protect them. If we all do something, then it could mean everything.
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