MORGANTOWN, WV — The decline in reports of cases of child abuse and neglect over the last few months is raising red flags for public health experts at West Virginia University.
The decline in reported cases is a result of children being stuck at home and isolated because of COVID-19, experts believe.
This according to a WVU press release, which states that victims cannot leave these isolation settings and therefore, have no outlet for escape. Furthermore, Audra Hamrick, the WVU director of Public Health Practice & Service Learning, said children don’t have access to teachers, coaches, daycare workers, and others who care and are mandated to report cases.
The problem is further exacerbated, she said, because many people who are not in a career where they are mandated to report simply don’t have the know-how of what to do in these cases.
“They may not know how to make a report of child abuse or neglect, so you may be in a position, say a mailman, or a utility worker, or even a waste management worker, who sees a child and suspects something isn’t right and maybe they just don’t know how to report. I think just making sure that folks are aware of the hotline number. We’ve created a flier to know what kind of questions to be prepared for, what kind of information you’ll be asked and just to let people that it’ll be completely anonymous.”Audra Hamrick — Director of Public Health Practice & Service Learning
Hamrick said the important part for people to remember it is not up to them to determine if their reported case qualifies as abuse or neglect, but to instead realize it is up to trained professionals. They are the ones, Hamrick said, who will determine whether the case should be investigated, or whether it’s a substantiated report of abuse or neglect.
The key is to say something if you see something doesn’t look right, Hamrick said. If not the situation could continue and become worse, leading to injury or worse. It’s a matter of survival, she said.
“And just know that one positive experience, one person, one adult showing that kind of compassion and showing a child that they see them, that they care, that they recognize their struggle can make a huge difference in the long run for a young person. I think it’s just important for people to know the role that they could potentially play could be the difference between life and death.”Audra Hamrick — Director of Public Health Practice & Service Learning
The effects of children being stuck in abusive situations during isolation without an outlet pose many long term physical and psychological risks, Hamrick said. These risks stem from the fact that children are stressed, lacking caring adults who can explain to them why times are tough and provide them comfort.
In addition, she said, they may not be in touch with their peers, so they have lost the social connection, “which is so important for developing children’s body and brains and all of the overall wellness of child development.”
“I think some of the long term effects could be a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. Maybe they don’t have adults at home right now who are helping them to process their fears and anxieties and that could lead to increased risks for things like depression or anxiety as adolescents and into adulthood. Some of them may — because they’re not certain of ways to cope, may adopt other health risk behaviors, like substance abuse, themselves and some delinquency. I think concerns for mental health, physical health, and overall wellbeing are all potential risks as far as long term effects go.”Audra Hamrick — Director of Public Health Practice & Service Learning
If you know of or suspect a child who is being abused or neglected, Hamrick encourages you to call the 24/7 hotline: 1-800-352-6513.