By Deanna St. Germain and Sarah M. Stewart
There have been many news articles and published letters about the concern for undiscovered and increasing rates of child abuse and domestic violence during this period of social isolation. As Directors of Kids FIRST, Lane County’s Children’s Advocacy Center, we share these concerns. April was Child Abuse Prevention Month, but the need to protect children continues — each one of us has a role to play.
First we must recognize that this unprecedented situation is, for many of us, traumatic. For those of us who have experienced profound losses in the past few weeks, we may find ourselves living in fight, flight or freeze mode. When we are experiencing this stress reaction, we do not have access to the higher functioning parts of our brain. Adults who have suffered trauma, abuse or neglect in their childhoods can be even more susceptible to this. It’s important to be aware of this so that we can help ourselves and others cope and find resilience.
One of the greatest predictors of resilience in children is a caring adult who is consistently and lovingly in the child’s life. If you were that person for a child — a student, neighbor or grandchild — please find safe ways to stay connected to them. By doing so you’ll be contributing to their resilience, and, if there is trouble at home, you may be the one they alert.
You can also check on and offer remote support to parents you know. Parents of young children, children with special needs or those who are under stress due to unemployment or food insecurity, for example, may be struggling right now. A check-in phone call can reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and give parents a chance to feel heard.
If you have what you need to weather this storm, think creatively about what you can do to support families in your community. Dropping off diapers or a pizza to a family, or even just writing uplifting messages on your sidewalk with chalk, can help reduce stress and increase positivity. Now, more than ever, it takes a village. Taking part in these acts of kindness will help to increase your resiliency as well.
If you do suspect that a child is in danger, please, please make a report. You don’t have to prove that a child has been abused to make a report to the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline (ORCAH). If you suspect that a child is unsafe, that is enough to make a report.
There are only a few times in human history the entire human race has faced their mortality at the same time. We will be forever changed by this global pandemic. Some changes will be life-altering and hard to bear, but we hope we can also find and cherish the positive changes. Likely, one of the most profound positive changes will be an increased awareness of the healing power of human connection and an understanding that we are all just a moment away from the ultimate leveler, tragedy.
Dr. Deanna St. Germain is the medical director of Kids FIRST and Sarah M. Stewart is Kids FIRST executive director.
Kids FIRST is Lane County’s Children’s Advocacy Center, founded in 1994. Its mission is to provide intervention and advocacy for children who are victims of, or witnesses to crime. For more information about Kids FIRST, please visit KidsFirstCenter.net. Report child abuse to the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline by calling 1-855-503-SAFE (7233). The hotline receives calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, reporting abuse of any child or adult to the Oregon Department of Human Services.