In more normal times – and even during a pandemic – child abuse is preventable, says Sara Wright, social services administrator for the Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services (CCDJFS).
That’s why CCDJFS is observing April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, as it has in previous years.
More important, the agency’s child protective service caseworkers (CPS) are still, in the midst of COVID-19, serving families and children in crisis.
“You may not be able to walk into our office, but our caseworkers are still making in-person, in-home contacts and monitoring kids for safety,” Wright said.
Before making a home visit, caseworkers call to ask if anyone in the home is ill so they can take appropriate precautions. And they abide by social distancing and other preventive measures such as frequent handwashing, use of hand sanitizer, and wearing masks, though they are in limited supply.
From March 17 to April 3, Stacy Cox, CCDJFS director said, CPS caseworkers completed 59 direct, in-home contacts with families.
In the case of children placed with foster families or in group or residential placement settings, the caseworkers use teleconferencing technology to check in with children.
Cox said that since last summer CPS caseworkers have been using electronic devices purchased with Children Services Best Practices Funds from the state of Ohio.
“Having access to this technology put CPS staff in a great position since they began working remotely March 17,” Cox said. “The technology allows them to continue serving vulnerable families during the stay-at-home order in the healthiest and safest manner possible.”
However, this time of isolation raises the risk of children and adults who live in abusive environments. “A lot of kids are not as visible in the community as they used to be,” Wright said. Schools and daycare centers are closed, and children may be isolated from extended family and friends due to the stay-at-home order.
One consequence of children’s decreased visibility is that reports of potential child abuse and neglect made to CCDJFS decreased 60 percent from early to late March, Wright said. This trend seems to be happening across the state, based on anecdotal reports by other child protection agencies, she added.
Higher levels of stress
“Parents do not want to harm their children, but sometimes stresses build up,” Wright says. “People are going to have higher levels of stress in a time like this and this can lead to an increase in abuse.”
Many people, she said, are out of work for the first time with the added frustration of having to navigate an overburdened system to apply for unemployment benefits. She adds, “Parents are teaching their kids at home, and families are separated, losing the emotional support.”
More foster parents needed
Wright said that more foster parents are needed for at-risk children who need to be placed outside their homes. Although some current foster parents are accepting new placements, additional foster parents are needed.
“Foster care may be needed even more. We won’t know until we come out of this. This is going to be a long recovery process,” Wright said.
People interested in becoming foster parents should call CCDJFS, 937-484-1500, to learn how to become licensed.
Information from Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services.