My View: 'Stay at Home' order puts some kids at heightened risk of abuse
Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant stress and uncertainty. In Oregon, among many other impacts, it has revealed weaknesses in our state's social service systems as households isolate themselves from one another. Although children have largely been resistant to the disease's worst symptoms, many have become unseen victims of the pandemic as they experience abuse in their homes without detection.
"Stay home to stay safe" is not a workable solution if a child's home is not a safe place for them to be. Out of view from caring adults like social workers and teachers, children suffering abuse don't have access to the usual community safeguards that normally intervene to protect them from harm. During times of stress and isolation, abuse skyrockets.
Indeed, since social distancing began, domestic violence hotlines are fielding far more calls than they normally would.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that in 45-60% of homes where domestic partner violence occurs, child abuse is also happening.
The state's child abuse hotline has received significantly fewer reports of abuse since schools have closed; however, as the Oregonian recently reported, this is likely because teachers are so often the ones to report suspected abuse.
Experts serving in Children's Advocacy Centers (CACs), which provide crucial services to child abuse victims, are certain maltreatment is increasing, both in frequency and severity.
Oregon's CACs have been adapting to ensure their services are still available during social distancing for the most urgent child abuse cases.
For example, many centers are implementing telemedicine and remote mental health care to eliminate the chances for COVID-19 exposure.
Children, without access to their local CAC, are at risk of being redirected to a local emergency department to be seen by a physician without specialized training in child abuse assessment. Even worse, this increases their risk of unnecessary exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
Despite the critical role CACs serve, they have remained chronically underfunded. State investments account for only 17% of CAC budgets and now they are under even more financial strain. Like many nonprofits, CACs have had to cancel fundraisers and awareness campaigns that help pay for their services.
As a legislator, I'll continue to do my part to advocate for increased state investments so that all of Oregon's children are able to access these services when necessary.
CACs also need your help to stay afloat. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, so please consider donating to your local CAC.
You can also help by using the information available on the Oregon Child Abuse Solutions website. There, you can learn how to prevent abuse in your community, how to identify signs of abuse, and how to report it when you see those signs. You can also find your local CAC to donate to them.
Abuse thrives in isolation. Though this time will test us all, it's essential that we remember the little ones who are now stuck sheltering in place in unsafe homes.
We must guarantee that following up on their safety doesn't include taking them to an emergency department where they risk exposure to COVID-19. We must also ensure that CACs have the resources necessary to meet the needs of children who have experienced abuse. Our communities need CACs, and CACs need you.
Join me in supporting your local CAC and standing with survivors of violence, even during these uncertain times.
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