COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH)–April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. In Ohio, a child is abused or neglected every 30 minutes. For the last year, the number of reported cases has gone down and that may be misleading.
“I would love to think that with the pandemic, we’ve had a decrease in abuse,” said Dr. Kristin Crichton, a child abuse pediatrician for Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “We know that one of the contributing factors to child maltreatment is stress of a family, financial stress, emotional stress You lose your support system and that’s certainly all things we’ve seen with the pandemic.”
Why are the numbers decreasing?
“We think that’s likely related to children kind of being away from their mandated reporters, outside of school settings, away from teachers and guidance counselors who are so frequently the reporters who call into child protective services when there are concerns for abuse,” Crichton said.
With more children back in the classroom, more cases are being called in.
“We are starting to see an increase in referrals again. We [are] certainly not at the levels we were pre-pandemic, but we’re getting closer to that number,” said Kim Wilhelm who is the Protective Services Administrator with Licking County Jobs & Family Services.
According to advocates, people typically think of the most extreme cases when considering child abuse, but those are actually rare.
“Neglect is the number one type of maltreatment that is reported nationally,” Crichton said. “So certainly, when parents and caregivers are being asked to juggle so many demands at home, that does increase stress and it does make it more likely that children will have accidental injuries because parent’s attention is divided among so many tasks.”
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Wilhelm explained you do not have to wait for someone to report you if things are going wrong at home. You can actually report yourself.
“Those are the cases we actually like the best because we have a parent that has already recognized that there is an issue and they’re reaching out for help, and they are almost always highly motivated to receive that help to address those concerns,” Wilhelm said.
If a child does come to you for help, Crichton says it’s important to listen and remain calm.
“We want to make sure we listen to the child. We want to make sure that child feels heard,” she said. “We want to try not to respond with panic or overreaction because we want to help the child feel safe and know that they’re doing the right thing in talking about what’s happened.”
Both Wilhelm and Crichton say you shouldn’t be afraid to report what a child has told you or what you may suspect to authorities.
“In the majority of our cases, we are able to offer services to that family that allow the child to remain in the home with the family and address those safety concerns that we might have,” Wilhelm said.
“If everyone could think of themselves as mandated reporters, I think that could help us help kids,” Crichton said. “You do not have to be able to prove or absolutely know that a child has been neglected or abuse. Just have that reasonable suspicion. The report can be made anonymously.”