Who is watching our nation’s children and protecting them from abuse? Who is rescuing them from their abusers, and helping to prevent trauma that will leave a lasting impact throughout these individual’s lifetime? During the Covid-19 shutdown everyone was, and in some places still are, being told to stay home. Restaurants, and businesses of all kinds, including mental health agencies, social service organizations, doctor’s offices, and child protective services had sent the majority of their staff home, and they were either out of a job or told to work from home. The schools closed and children from Kindergarten to college were also told to stay home. Most daycares closed as well. Telehealth was implemented and counselors, case workers, and doctors saw patients through Zoom or another online visual system.
The School Year is Upon Us
With the new school year just around the corner, I’m hearing a lot of talk from both sides of the controversy on whether or not schools should even open in a few weeks and let kids and teachers back in. Highlands county has already pushed the school year back to August 17th. Some schools in the United States have chosen not to reopen. There are staunch concerns on both sides, and many have valid fears for the children who are sickly or susceptible to getting Covid-19, and for the teachers and staff who could be at risk to contract the virus. But in this dilemma, what about the children who are home with their abusers? Those children who normally get a respite from the criticism, the beatings, and the tirades from their abusers through attending seven to eight hours a day of daycare or public or private schools. Children who are normally seen and known by teachers, staff, and daycare workers, these hardworking soldiers in the fight against abuse, are no longer able to notice the bruises and the brokenness, the overly quiet child, the hungry child, and the angry child because these children are home all day and all night with their caregivers who are easily triggered and not able to control their emotions.
Statistics and Studies on Abuse
In a recent article by Ashley Abramson, https://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/domestic-violence-child-abuse, she reported on research by Psychologist Josie Serrata, PhD, who identified how increased stressors combined with being socially isolated can raise the risk for abuse in the home by their caregivers. Ashley also identified the surge in abuse during Hurricane Harvey due to several factors, including a lack of resources, isolation, and additional stressors.
Several months back I was asked to discuss mental health during Covid-19 on the Barry Foster Radio Show and I also wrote a blog https://www.lorihelmscounseling.com/post/mental-health-and-covid-19 about the mental health challenges during Covid-19. During the radio show and on the blog, I discussed increased substance abuse, domestic abuse, child abuse, suicide, depression, and anxiety and how these have increased during the pandemic, along with alcohol consumption and acts of self-harm and harm to others. Months have now gone by since this pandemic began, and children have been isolated at home for far too long with their abusers.
The Horrors of Abuse
Hospitals and law enforcement are reporting more severe cases of abuse because there are no eyes on these children and the abuse is going on for much longer before appropriate interventions, thereby, resulting in more severe cases of abuse entering the emergency rooms. As a mental health counselor, mother, and a human being, it breaks my heart to think of children trapped inside a violent home, when a home should be full of love and kindness, not anger and rage. These children are crying out to be rescued, but no one can hear or see them. Can any of us imagine being imprisoned and abused 24/7 with no relief by those who claim to love us?
Decisions Vs. Dangers
The good news is that mental health agencies are re-opening, albeit with stringent Covid-19 guidelines, and agencies are venturing into homes to check on children again. When we look at any aspect of our traditional lives through a tiny lens, there are things we cannot see, and when we look at whether schools should open or not, all the facts should be considered and examined, and these helpless children who need protecting, should also be a top priority within the decision-making process.
What then are we to do? Do we give each parent a choice whether to home school or attend in person? Should we shut the schools down completely? Either way, we cannot ignore those who do not have a voice.
The good news is that even in the lockdown and quarantine, there is help for the abuser and the abused. If you witness violence happening or see the affects, call one of the hotlines below and save someone’s life and break the cycle of abuse.
National suicide prevention 1-800-273-8255
Suicide help text line- #741741-Go
Peace River Crisis line- 1-863-519-3744 Toll free 1-800-627-5906
Domestic Violence3 Hotline- 1-863-386-1167
Tri-County Human Services telehealth-1-863-709-9393 (Avon Park office 1-863-452-0106)
Abuse and Neglect hotline- 1-800-962-2873
Detox Unit- 1-863-533-4139 (highway 60 East, Bartow, Florida) After Detox, inpatient treatment at Florida center is available for drug and alcohol treatment-Avon Park).
The Florida Center Avon Park inpatient addictions treatment-1-863-452-3858
In thoughtful concern,
Lori C. Helms M.A., LMHC