During the past year, our world has overturned with public health concerns, teleworking from home, social distancing, and childcare facility closures. As this shift has occurred, we as EI providers have naturally adjusted to our new reality. However, some of these exact safety measures meant to keep the public safe has created a daunting reality of under-reported cases of child abuse or neglect.
Statistics show a drastic decline of child abuse reports since the start of the pandemic:
According to The Washington Post, “In the nation’s capital, hotline reports of abuse and neglect between mid-March and mid-April were 62 percent lower than in the same period last year, according to the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency. Reports to child protective services in Maryland have fallen just as far, and in Virginia, referrals from school staffers have dipped by 94 percent.” (Schmidt & Natanson, 2020)
It is easy to overlook such a scenario, because decreased child abuse reports are a good thing, right? On the contrary, experts will tell you otherwise. Children without routine encounters from childcare providers, health professionals, and other social advocates lead to emergency room visits due to severe injuries from abuse. Fewer cases are brought in for immediate medical attention until the severity of their injuries are no longer concealable.
As EI providers, we must be more alert towards the signs of abuse and neglect in our client’s homes. For some families, our tele-therapy sessions are their only lifelines for social support.
How Can We Help?
How can we help those children who are isolated, cut off from childcare providers, social contacts, or protection services?
As mandated reporters, we have a duty to uphold when we see suspected abuse or neglect in the children we serve. During this time when face to face visits are at a halt or at limited capacity, it is even more important to check in with our families through virtual sessions or over the phone.
What to do if you witness a parent display abusive or aggressive behavior towards a child during a telehealth session?
- Avoid judging remarks or facial expressions
- Re-direct and diffuse the conversation in a positive manner not to escalate the situation
- Discuss what positive behaviors that you have observed from the child to highlight their strengths
- Offer positive reinforcement strategies for challenging behaviors
- Check in with the parent to see if they are in need of community support or other resources
If you suspect or witness child abuse or neglect, call your local department of social services or child protective services. If there is evidence of immediate harm or threat to the child and/or family member, CALL THE POLICE.
Share some strategies or tips below in the comments about how you check in with the child and family’s wellbeing during your EI telehealth visits.
Virginia Child Protective Services: 1-800-552-7096
Out-of-State Child Protective Services: 804-786-8536
SCAN of Northern Virginia (Stop Child Abuse Now)
Schmidt, S., & Natanson, H. (2020, April 30). With kids stuck at home, ER doctors see more severe cases of child abuse. The Washington Post.
Sarah Kim has been an occupational therapist for over 12 years. She currently works in early intervention for the Infant and Toddler Connection of Fairfax- Falls Church. She also volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for SCAN (Alexandria/Arlington). Email Sarah at: firstname.lastname@example.org