April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month but as many families continue to be trapped inside their homes, concerns regarding child abuse are starting to rise.
At the Samaritan House, Kate Celius, community engagement manager, said 65 percent of the people they serve are youth and since the start of the coronavirus pandemic there’s already been a 30 percent increase in needs for services.
“As you can imagine with social distancing, tension can run high at home so instances of domestic violence do increase,” she said.
Celius said even if physical abuse isn’t happening directly to a child, there is still the emotional impact of being around domestic abuse that can stay with a child for life. There are counselors at Samaritan House who help children navigate the complex emotions derived from being raised in an abusive home.
“We believe they’re being more exposed [to violence] just because of the increase we’ve had in the need for our services,” she said. “In situations of domestic violence, [the increase] indicates that there are more children in the line of or witness to this abuse.”
While most days children are able to be under the watchful eye of a teacher or other adult authority figures. But now that school has been canceled for the remainder of the school year, many children won’t have the opportunities for their abuse to be recognized.
According to a 2018 report from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children and Families, educators make up the majority of reports to child protective services nationwide.
“It’s two parts, really,” Celius said. “They’re exposed to the violence more so because they’re not at school and those caregivers outside the parental unit who look after their well-being are unable to do so.”
That’s why some of the work social services employees perform is becoming even more important.
Rebecca Vinroot, director of social services for James City County, said the county’s Social Services department is still continuing all of its mandated programs, including responding to reports of child abuse and neglect.
However, some of the operations have changed to protect employees.
When the department receives a report of child abuse and neglect, they first have the members of the household go through a screening process before a social services worker responds in person. The screening process includes asking questions about coronavirus exposure and symptoms.
“When we do respond out to a home, we maintain social distancing,” Vinroot wrote in an email. “We were recently given several cloth masks by a local church that staff will be wearing out in the field, which was very much appreciated.”
Foster care programs are also currently using video conferencing to maintain visits between foster children and their biological parents as well as complete regular visitations that are required to ensure parents and children have their needs met.
Those virtual platforms and social distancing protocols are becoming more and more important as social services continues to receive reports of suspected child abuse despite the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Ralph Northam, Vinroot said.
Residents are encouraged to report concerns about child abuse to the James City County local office, the Williamsburg Department of Human Services and the Virginia Child Protective Services hotline.
Vinroot said that while the annual candlelight vigil for child abuse prevention month was canceled because of the coronavirus, the county is still placing blue pinwheels, which symbolize awareness, at several county buildings.
“We hope these pinwheels can serve as a reminder of the fact that prevention is a community-wide effort,” she said.
Tamiko Burrell, a youth and family advocate at Transitions Family Violence Services, wrote in an email on Wednesday the organization is sharing information about Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month to clients by offering advice such as creating a daily routine, sharing online resources and offering crisis communication services.
The office is currently closed but advocates are teleworking to provide counseling services as well.
“We are also creating times in the day to where we actually help parents needing help with children’s school work provided by teachers,” she wrote. “We print out packets for each client housed in our shelter and administer all materials needed as if it was the first day of school.”
“We want to make sure that the children have all resources needed,” she added.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, contact:
- James City County Child Protective Services Hotline, 757-259-3201
- Williamsburg Department of Human Services, 757-220-6161
- York-Poquoson Child Protective Services, 757-890-3930
- Virginia Child Protective Services Hotline, 800-552-7096
- Transitions Family Services 24/7 hotline: 757-723-7774
WYDaily multimedia reporter Julia Marsigliano contributed to this report.
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