Child abuse and neglect is a hidden epidemic across our country that affects millions of our most vulnerable population. In 1983 President Ronald Reagan designated April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, but the number of cases have grown significantly and worsened in the times of a global pandemic.
According to the American Society for Positive Care of Children (SPCC), every year 4.4 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States affecting 7.5 million children. In 74.9 percent of child abuse cases the victims are neglected. Five children die every single day due to the cumulative effects of neglect and abuse. In 92 percent of the cases, parents are the abusers; in 65,000 of the child abuse cases, sexual abuse is reported.
New social restrictions in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 may have worsened the situation according to Washington Post journalists Samantha Schmidt and Hannah Natanson. They recently reported that “since the pandemic has occurred, many potentially abusive situations have been exacerbated by the stay-at-home order, creating an atmosphere of silence. A child cooped up with their abuser is a potentially explosive situation. Reportedly, there have been fewer child abuse calls, but the calls that do come in have been extremely alarming.With kids stuck at home, ER doctors see more severe cases of childabuse, some hospitals have reported the cases that are surfacing often involve children so severely injured they end up in the emergency room and intensive care unit. In some hospitals, they are dying at an unusually high rate.”
Angela Haslett, a forensic interviewer at SafeSpot, a children’s advocacy center with a facility in Hood River, Oregon, serving the Columbia River Gorge area, said, “What keeps me up at night, is the children that we’re not seeing. Lately, it’s gone quiet. Since the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close and families to stay home, the calls have slowed to two to five a week, with more of them involving children with injuries so visible—a broken arm, a beat-up face—an adult had to seek medical help.”
Normally, the eyes on kids are teachers and school staff, childcare providers, medical providers, and law enforcement. However, since the pandemic and lockdown began, school referrals have dropped, and law enforcement has not received as many reports.
Pediatricians across the country are sounding the alarm. The stress of unemployment and financial insecurity has strained relationships between children and those who care for them. The closures of schools and daycares have forced children closer to adults who may not be safe.
Why should we all care about the repercussions of child abuse? Child abuse has far-reaching negative effects on its victims and on society. Survivors of child maltreatment are at greater risk for physical, emotional, work, and relationship problems throughout childhood and into adulthood.
What can we do about child abuse? Learn about the issues and take steps to help prevent abuse and neglect. Websites such as www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing are good sources of information.
Children have rights. In the state of Washington there is a code called the Child Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights: RCW 7.69A.030. In addition to the rights provided for all crime victims and witnesses, the Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office says they will make reasonable efforts to ensure the rights for child victims of child abuse, violent crimes or sex crimes, and witnesses under the age of 18.
Child abuse is a crime. We are all responsible for their welfare, we are all mandatory reporters. If you suspect child abuse or neglect, report it to the state’s child abuse hotline at (866) END-HARM (866-363-4276), which will connect you to the correct local office.
In Klickitat County, help is available through Programs for Peaceful Living. Office hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays by appointment. For the Goldendale office call (509) 773-6100 and for the Bingen office call (509) 493-2662. If you are in crisis, call the toll free 24/7 crisis line at (844) 493-1709.