The current public health crisis has impacted the nation faster than most people could have ever imagined. Social distancing measures have resulted in closed businesses and closed schools, and for family life, these measures have resulted in many families being confined to their homes.
Unfortunately, this confinement and sudden change of routine can lead to cases of child abuse. These cases of child abuse can be new, or they can be existing cases that are exacerbated by the family's new living situation.
In this article, during National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on child abuse cases. Further, we discuss how a person can recognize instances of child abuse and how a person can respond to possible cases.
How might COVID-19 lead to cases of child abuse?
The short answer is that the COVID-19 pandemic can produce an increase in stress, and this increased stress can lead to child abuse from parents and other caretakers.
With the onset of the current pandemic, many adults have found themselves out of work. Losing a job is a stressful event by itself, and this event is even more stressful when the prospects of getting a new job are low. As many adults wonder how they can pay their bills and how they can continue to provide for their family, stress levels can be at an all-time high.
Increased child care responsibilities can also lead to stress among adults and caretakers. With children home from school or out of daycare, many adults are faced with additional caregiving hours and responsibilities each day. These changes in routine are not only stressful for the adult - they can be stressful for the child, too. These changes may cause the child to act out or misbehave, which can intensify an already stressful situation.
Also, many spouses and their children may be hesitant to leave an abusive home environment during the COVID-19 pandemic for fear of catching the virus. Also, while care shelters are "essential businesses" and many are still open, some locations are under-staffed or closed altogether. So, even if a spouse and their children want to leave an abusive environment, they may have difficulty finding a place to stay. This problematic scenario may result in otherwise avoidable instances of child abuse.
How can an individual identify a case of child abuse?
Identifying signs of abuse is difficult, as outside observers often only see the after-effects rather than the abusive event itself. However, instances of child abuse often have several observable signs and symptoms. Before identifying child abuse, individuals should know that there are different types of child abuse, and each type has a unique set of indicators.
For instances of physical child abuse, an adult may be able to recognize physical marks or bruises on the child. Typically, these marks look like they come from a hand or belt. An adult may also recognize different behaviors that indicate physical abuse, such as the child wearing clothing to cover-up physical marks or flinching at sudden movements from a fear of getting hurt.
Physical child abuse can include sexual abuse, which has its own set of possible indications. These indications can include the child having advanced sexual knowledge for their age or being hesitant to change their clothes in front of others.
Some children may suffer from emotional abuse, which can result from an adult consistently ignoring or belittling a child or exposing them to emotionally traumatic events. Signs of emotional child abuse can include the child exhibiting extreme behavioral swings or the child seeming detached from their parent or caretaker.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some instances of child abuse will go unrecognized, as a child will have fewer interactions with adults other than their parents or primary caretakers. For example, a child will likely have little to no in-person interaction with their teachers, daycare providers, or sports coaches. These adults in a child's life often know how to identify possible signs of child abuse, and unfortunately, these adults are often a child's only line of defense.
What should an individual do if they see signs of child abuse?
If an individual notices signs of child abuse, they should take action instead of ignoring the situation. Taking action is particularly crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the child likely does not have many interactions with other adults who can help them.
One action an individual can take after noticing signs of child abuse is to talk with the child's parents. This action may seem counterintuitive, as the parents may be the ones committing child abuse. However, talking with the child’s parents may give the individual a better understanding of the situation and a better understanding of how best to address the child’s needs.
Another option is for the individual to call their state's child abuse hotline for advice. The trained staff who operate state hotlines will have information that is specific for the given situation, and they will be able to direct the individual to a variety of local resources. Of course, every situation is unique, and if a child is ever in immediate danger, the individual who notices this danger should call 911 immediately.
How can Dallas Behavioral Healthcare Hospital help?
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, many adults are facing unprecedented levels of stress due to economic insecurity and new caregiving responsibilities. Further, some adults and caretakers may be struggling with mental health issues, which can make this stressful time even more difficult. Parents or caretakes who are emotionally and mentally struggling during this time can reach out to trained, caring professionals for help.
At Dallas Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, we can help parents or caretakers who are struggling with their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To get started, concerned individuals can contact us for a free and confidential assessment. Our number is (972) 982-0897, and we are available 24/7. Adults who are afraid that they are losing control of their actions and emotions during this time do not have to struggle alone.