Susan Moseby, left, SAFE Program Administrator, and Jenny Farley, Child Counseling Center Nurse, occupy a table during IGA Foodland for Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month, sharing information and resources with those who inquire on April 16, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
The pandemic has been one of isolation, with closed schools and squatting houses that can be a difficult environment.
For this reason, child welfare organizations are concerned as the community marks the month to raise awareness for preventing child abuse.
“With COVID and the isolation and standstill in our community, our referrals have actually gone down,” said Susan Moseby, program manager for the Catholic Community Service’s SAFE Child Advocacy Center, in a telephone interview. “I think it has to do with children being at home, isolated, and not necessarily having safe adults to talk to.”
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The lack of contact with adults like teachers, who are mandatory reporters, could be responsible for the decline in referrals, Moseby said. When kids come back to school, the recommendations keep coming back. According to the Kids Count program, more than 20% of Alaskan children report feeling depressed, dejected, or hopeless during the current pandemic. Concerns about the wellbeing of children caught in the pandemic now had time to manifest.
“Do I think that because we didn’t receive the recommendations, has the abuse decreased? I think it’s still happening, ”said Moseby. “I think there is still abuse. I don’t know if it has increased, but there have been additional stressors in people’s lives due to COVID. ”
These forces can affect not only children but family members as well, who can trickle down in unforeseen and unfortunate ways, Moseby said.
“The stress and fear have been pushed through the media that it is possible to become infected with it and die from it. That put a lot of strain on people. That affects how families are not only with their children but also with each other, ”Moseby said. “It doesn’t always have to be physical or sexual abuse. It could be emotional abuse or neglect. “
Isolated from peer groups
Aside from direct abuse, the lack of interaction could be a heavy burden on the children, Moseby said.
“I think children very much miss the interaction they have with their peers and other adults on a personal basis,” said Moseby. “I speak through my children’s eyes. Engaging in sports and other activities and losing them was extremely difficult for them. ”
Other factors present in life in America could also lead to stress and anxiety, said Alyssa Coogan, child counselor at AWARE.
“The isolation was just, really, really, really tough and there have been a lot of things that have happened in the last year that have been difficult for children and families. political and social things, ”Coogan said in a telephone interview. “It’s been difficult for kids when you have a different opinion than your family.”
Screens alone cannot replace interaction, Coogan said. Children learn by watching other children interact with each other and with adults, and it is difficult to replace this with virtual interaction. It could also go the other way, Coogan said, with larger families struggling to get their own space.
“One of the biggest things I saw as a trend was that a lot of kids lost their peer group. If you don’t have any siblings it can be difficult, ”Coogan said. “There are so many things that can help. Some families have five or six children. Can you imagine being a high school student trying to zoom in with four siblings? ”
Separation of institutions
Another factor could be the mental shift in schoolwork at home. Many people use mental frameworks called schemes to organize their behavior and information in specific settings: one for school, another for home, Coogan said. Crossing these currents can lead to stress and anxiety.
“These schemas and expectations help people follow suit and perform in their surroundings,” Coogan said. “It is not easy for every child because not every child has a good middle-class home.”
While people were isolated, there was a (slight) silver lining as telehealth options were no longer shunned but brought into focus, Coogan said.
“The COVID situation and the quarantine as well as everything that contributes to telehealth coming to the fore. Lots of people do this. I think that filled my schedule so quickly. It was an option that wasn’t recommended before, but now I think it will stay here, ”Coogan said. “With zoom and homeschooling there is more flexibility.”
Preventing child abuse can act like a fire and stop an event that continues to grow and bleed. According to the Alaska Children’s Trust, the effects of child abuse permeate all aspects of the victim’s life. Direct economic effects can be felt in the costs of criminal justice, lost productivity and the demands on victims’ special education and health care. According to the 2019 study, child abuse in Alaska cost the state $ 2.3 billion in spending and losses.
The plight of the children can be dire, Moseby said, but everyone has the power to help.
“Our motto is look, listen and report. Community members can look out for neighborhood kids when they’re at church, even at the grocery store, ”Moseby said. “People can look for signs that something is happening in the children’s lives. We can listen. You can believe when a child is telling you something and report it. ”
Those who fear a child will become a victim of abuse or neglect can call the state or SAFE at 907-463-6157, Moseby said. For more information on the signs or costs of child abuse, Moseby said, the Alaska Children’s Trust, https://www.alaskachildrenstrust.org/, is a good resource.
“I think children are very resilient,” said Moseby. “Do I think kids will jump back? I do.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or [email protected]
If you suspect child abuse
Call: 1-800-478-4444 or email [email protected]