Welcome to September. Like everything else in 2020, it’s not a normal September—it’s strangely quiet without the usual bustle and flow of school buses in the mornings and raucous dismissals in the afternoons. Nevertheless, children are back in school, in one form or another, and that gives us reason for hope.
When the pandemic shuttered our world back in March, we knew what it would mean for vulnerable children: Children out of school and isolated from caring adults is a perfect storm for abuse. We know that 78% of abuse happens at the hands of a parent, while another 10% of perpetrators are a relative or an unmarried partner of a parent. That is to say, nearly all abuse happens in the home. Meanwhile, our nation’s teachers, law enforcement, social services, medical, and mental health professionals collectively report more than two-thirds of the nation’s child abuse cases.
And during the shutdown, we were asked repeatedly about whether we’d see a spike in child abuse—I’m sure many of you fielded this question, as well. But that’s the wrong question. The real question we needed to ask was how many children were being abused with no trusted adult around to report it? Now, for the first time, we have an accurate picture of the answer. The nation’s 900 Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) have sent us their statistics for the first six months of 2020, and they’ve served 40,000 fewer kids this year than they did at the same point last year.
- 40,000 children whose teachers were never able to ask what’s wrong after class.
- 40,000 children whose coaches never had the chance to notice something’s off about their attitude.
- 40,000 children whose doctors never had a chance to notice a strange bruise.
- 40,000 children whose aunts and uncles and grandparents might not see them often enough to confirm a bad feeling.
It’s enough to make one despair. But CACs have never been about despair—to the contrary, we’ve always been about hope. And now, as schools begin to reopen and the opportunities for children to reach out to a safe adult resume, hope begins again. Hope isn’t limited to the school grounds, though. There are plenty of ways for each and every one of us to get involved and help. You could be a family member, a teacher who only knows a new student through a computer screen, a dental hygienist, or a delivery driver. Every moment you have with a child in your community is an opportunity to make a difference. Here’s what you can do:
- Know the signs of abuse.
- Learn your legal responsibilities in your state. In nearly every state, some jobs are mandated reporters of child abuse, and in 18 states and Puerto Rico, all adults are required to report suspected child abuse.
- Say hello to children and parents in your community when you can. While not every child (or parent) is going to open up to you right away, if something is wrong, establishing rapport with the people who frequent your workplace or community hubs establishes you as a safe adult who might make the critical difference.
- Contact your local CAC and talk through any concerns you have about a child in your life, or about making the report. They’re here to help.
- If you suspect child abuse—yes, even suspect it—make the report.
Together, we can restore hope and help the children who need us most to heal, recover, and thrive.
Teresa is the Executive Director of The National Children’s Alliance. Pasco Kids First is one of 39 Children’s Advocacy Centers in the state of Florida that is fully accredited by the National Children’s Alliance meeting the highest standards of practice to serve kids.
For more information, visit www.nationalchildrensalliance.org.