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Child abuse can be overshadowed or overlooked during a difficult time like a pandemic

There are a lot of things that the COVID pandemic has affected this past year. It is completely understandable if you are tired of hearing about them. But one byproduct does not get the attention that it deserves and as the month of April begins, it will finally get its due spotlight. This past Thursday, we began Child Abuse Prevention Month, locally and nationally. Perhaps you have seen the pinwheels at the Prineville Police Department, Crook County Sheriff's Office and the local schools. They are but one reminder of the unfortunate reality that children are continually at risk of child abuse. Another reminder is the blue ribbons that are getting distributed throughout the community. Hopefully, you have had an opportunity to pick up and wear one during the month.

Child abuse did not emerge during the pandemic of course, but unfortunately, COVID-19 lockdowns and other gathering restrictions have only exacerbated the issue in Crook County and around the country. Rachel Visser with KIDS Center, a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention, evaluation and treatment of child abuse in Central Oregon, said that the risk for children experiencing abuse has "skyrocketed." This is due in part to the reporting of child abuse disclosures, discoveries and suspicions dropping more than 70% at the beginning of the pandemic, with lower reporting numbers occurring in the months since. Visser points out that children were not in front of mandatory reporters like teachers, afterschool programs, and others for a larger portion of this past year.

In addition, MountainStar Family Relief Nursery, which works with vulnerable Central Oregon families to keep kids safe from abuse and neglect, points out that people are facing more daily stressors than normal. The pandemic added fear, health concerns and other worries to the 14 known pre-pandemic stressors. Add to that the fact that unemployment and homelessness increased across the region in 2020, creating fewer childcare options, and it creates a greater potential for abusive situations.

For these reasons, it is more important than ever to be vigilant community members, neighbors, friends and family members. This is not a time to be shy if you suspect abuse. As they say, it's better to be safe than sorry. If something seems wrong, speak up. It isn't easy or comfortable, but it could make a huge difference for children who are unable to help themselves.

With child abuse prevention pushed into the spotlight, take to heart the reminders that abuse not only still happens locally and throughout the country, it can be overshadowed or overlooked during a difficult pandemic. Give this issue the attention it still needs.


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