Reports of child abuse have been halved since New Hampshire closed schools and started practicing social distancing, according to alarmed child advocacy groups.
Teachers, child care workers and other “child-facing professionals” are the primary reporters of child abuse and neglect in New Hampshire, according to the Granite State Children’s Alliance and other groups. With no school and stay-at-home orders, those children are not being seen on a regular basis.
The state Division of Children Youth and Families reported a 50% drop in child abuse and neglect reports in the first two weeks of COVID-19, according to the private organization Waypoint.
“While not unexpected that there would be a drop in reports, this rapid decline is alarming,” Waypoint said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Sununu said he’s convinced child abuse is at least as prevalent, and he’s signed an executive order that grants a $2 million budget increase to stand up these programs.
The spending would convert family violence prevention specialists from part-time to full-time employees, earmark money to hire more alcohol and substance abuse counselors and raise from six to 10 years old the age limit for children served in the Strength to Succeed Program.
“We want to make sure they have everything they need,” Sununu said. “If we have to take more steps we absolutely will, protecting these vulnerable adults and children is our top priority.”
DCYF Director Joe Risham urged the public to help his agency by reported suspected cases of abuse.
“People who are not currently seeing children and families due to the necessary social distancing measures aren’t contacting us as they normally would, but our families are still feeling the stress of the disruption of family routines,” Ribsam said.
“It is as important as ever to make sure we check on our families, kids and even older youth to let them know we care. Ask kids how they’re doing, how their loved ones are doing, if they need anything. Follow social distancing rules, but remain social – our families need the community connections that keep them strong and healthy.”
Meanwhile, times of stress, uncertainty and financial hardship lead to an increase in family violence, according to Granite State Children’s Alliance and New Hampshire network of Child Advocacy Centers.
“Risk of child abuse increases with stress and lack of supports,” said Moira O’Neill, director of the Office of the Child Advocate. “We need to be checking in with neighbors and making sure children are safe.”
The organizations urged New Hampshire adults to keep an eye on children in their neighborhood, in their child’s internet chat rooms, in virtual classrooms and in gaming systems.
“In other words, any time adults have contact with children it presents the opportunity to check on their well-being and safety,” the Granite State Alliance said.
The organizations stressed that all New Hampshire adults are required to report suspected abuse, and one does not need to provide proof of abuse or neglect.
Reports can be made confidentially to DCYF at 1-800-894-5533.
Meanwhile, Waypoint plans to offer a free family support line, 1-800-640-6486, starting Monday.
“Families in distress can call to talk with a skilled family support specialist who can help with coping strategies, connection to resources, parenting advice, and to help struggling families feel connected,” said Borja Alvarez de Toledo, president and chief executive of Waypoint.