The pandemic, shutdown and fallout from subsequent hardships have taken their toll on many. But some of our youngest neighbors are bearing the biggest burden. Child abuse is on the rise.
The statistics are in and they are startling. Reports of child abuse are down 70% across Sacramento, Placer, and neighboring counties which, at first glance, may seem promising. But when you dive in a bit deeper and learn that domestic situations requiring intervention from law enforcement are increasing, you begin to understand that child abuse isn’t going away, just the people that usually report it.
Teachers. Teachers are vital advocates, oftentimes objective ‘eyes and ears’, for some of their most vulnerable students. “School was my safe place. I knew I would not be abused as long as I was there,” is a refrain often heard from young clients at KidsFirst. But with schools closed since March, and parents strained under financial uncertainty, job concerns and other stresses, some at-risk children are spending hours upon hours with their abusers.
With a large portion of our mandated reporters on hiatus, the general public is needed more than ever. We owe it to these children to understand the scope of the problem, the signs, and symptoms to look for and how to take action.
What is abuse?
Child abuse is not always visible. Physical abuse accounts for just 15% of reports. It can also be emotional (verbal, constant criticism, intimidation, manipulation), sexual, exploitation (trafficking), but most often neglect (70%).
What constitutes physical abuse?
Corporal punishment is allowed if it is “disciplinary, warranted and not excessive”. While that may be somewhat subjective, it is never appropriate to punch, slap, kick, push, shake, choke, burn or throw an object at a child.
What are the signs?
Signs and symptoms to look for include:
- Unexplained bruises, welts, cuts
- Pattern of injury
- Fearful, aggressive, self-destructive behavior in children
- Wearing clothing inappropriate for weather, environment, occasion
- Sexual knowledge beyond a child’s age
- Bad hygiene
- Lack of supervision
- Parents who seem angry or limit contact with other people
What if I suspect abuse?
If a child is in an unsafe situation, call 911. If you are suspicious, be proactive and contact Child Welfare Services 24 hours a day. The system is designed to accommodate overreporting and there are no repercussions if allegations are deemed unfounded. “When in doubt, report it out.”
What is my role as a reporter?
Child services will gather details from you. You have the right to remain anonymous but staying involved in the process may benefit the child in the long run.
What will happen to a family referred to child services?
Experts will intervene to ascertain the safety of the child. While child abuse is never justifiable, there are many resources available to educate, strengthen and heal families such as intervention, counseling, and parenting classes.
The next several months will remain challenging as we continue to navigate the effects of the pandemic. Together we can ensure the well-being of our community’s children. If you witness a potentially dangerous situation, please contact Child Welfare Services. With counseling and resource centers in Roseville and Auburn, KidsFirst can help children and families by equipping them with the tools they need to cope with difficult life circumstances before they become overwhelming.