EVERY CONVERSATION these days (conducted virtually, of course!) seems to start with “How are you doing?” We talk about how the isolation is getting to us, how we are watching too much news, or the challenges of finding toilet paper. Imagine if we asked the thousands of abused or neglected children in New Hampshire the same question.
With schools and childcare closed and parents struggling to make ends meet after job losses, these kids are existing in a pressure cooker. Home — which is considered the safest place to be for most of us during the COVID-19 epidemic — is filled with perils for children and youth experiencing abuse or neglect. For some children, abuse or neglect has been part of a pattern. For others, they are dealing with new dangers as parents are overwhelmed by a world turned upside down by COVID-19.
In March alone, New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) reported a 50% decline in reports of child abuse or neglect. This decline is not because children are magically safer during the COVID-19 crisis. It is because the signs of abuse or neglect are not being seen and reported as frequently.
A 2018 report from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics showed that educators were the leading source for child abuse or neglect referrals. When children are not going to school or daycare, and caring adults are following recommendations to isolate, there are many fewer eyes watching out for children and youth who may need help. Unfortunately, in today’s environment it appears that many cases of child abuse and neglect just aren’t being reported.
We will all be maintaining our isolation through April, which also happens to be National Child Abuse Prevention Month. We cannot let our state’s children suffer unnoticed as our social distancing continues. There are things that all of us can do now to make a difference.
Offer support to a parent who may be struggling
If you have a neighbor or family member who has children at home, give them a call and just ask how they are doing. Lend an ear if they need to vent, pick up groceries if they need assistance, offer to play virtual games with their kids and let them know that you are there for them if they need help. A little support goes a long way toward reducing stress and loneliness.
Report it if you suspect abuse or neglect may be happening to a child
Every adult is a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect in New Hampshire. If you see or hear something that makes you suspicious, you are obligated by law to report it to DCYF at 1-800-894-5533 or 603-271-6562. Keep an eye on the kids if you take an isolated stroll around your neighborhood or see a family at the grocery store. If you are concerned that the children seem neglected or show signs of abuse, make a confidential report.
Become a CASA volunteer advocate for children
CASA trains volunteers to speak up for New Hampshire’s abused and neglected children in court. Typically, our volunteers have regular visits with their CASA kiddos but social distancing guidelines have required some creativity. CASAs are rising to the challenge by meeting with the children they advocate for through everything from Facetime and Zoom, to the U.S. Mail. Our volunteers remain committed to their mission and so is CASA. We are holding virtual information sessions for people who are interested in finding out more about becoming a CASA advocate and we will be holding online trainings this spring.
The COVID-19 crisis is taking a staggering toll on our health, our economy and, quite likely, our children. Right now, abuse and neglect is happening behind closed doors. At CASA of NH, we are preparing now for an influx of child abuse and neglect cases when the pandemic eases and we all emerge from our homes. It is vitally important that every adult in the state keep that influx to a trickle, rather than a flood, by watching out for the safety of our children, supporting our parents and reporting instances of suspected abuse or neglect now.