April is child abuse prevention month and now that we have been enduring the COVID-19 health crisis for over a year, many children continue to be at increased risk for abuse and neglect. Because of this, it is vitally important to protect, help, and support our most vulnerable children and families. As child welfare professionals, there are specific vulnerabilities to be aware of and supportive actions we can take.
- One of the most critical prevention efforts we can make is to encourage existing natural supports, school staff, daycare staff, neighbors, extended family to continue to make efforts to stay connected to the children and families in their lives. We can encourage those supportive people to regularly call, text, or video chat with the family and encourage our families to stay connected to these positive people in their lives. Reassure parents that parenting is hard no one can do it alone and normalize asking for help.
- It’s essential that we regularly ask about and aid our families in meeting their basic needs. Many families have lost jobs and are struggling financially. If parents don’t have enough food in their house or know how they will pay their rent or mortgage, the overall stress level in the home will be higher, increasing the risk of abuse or neglect.
- If you know or suspect parents may be struggling, make an effort to regularly check in on them. If you can’t visit safely in person, text, email, or video chat with them. Focus on relationship building. Developing trusting relationships with our families will increase the likelihood they will feel safe reaching out and accepting help when they need it. Always remain non-judgmental and supportive.
- As professionals, we can give parents permission to take breaks, set realistic goals, understand the importance of self-care and self-forgiveness, and help them shift their focus onto what they have control over. We can help parents create realistic and developmentally appropriate expectations for their children and help them celebrate the littlest positive changes.
- Creating detailed, thought out, and adaptable safety plans involving the whole family is also a crucial step in increasing safety for our most vulnerable families. Be sure to include all the children when creating the safety plan. Help each child identify at least one trusted adult outside of their immediate family they know how to reach out to.
- Educate all families you work with on the mental health resources available to them and accessible in the community. Ensure they understand telehealth therapy is an option and have mental health tips, pamphlets, and resources ready to distribute.
We are managing this health crisis and supporting our children and families together! As we move out of the pandemic and make a shift closer to more normalcy, child abuse reporting will increase. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call the Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400.