Coronavirus Could Spike Another Epidemic—in Child Abuse | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

Coronavirus Could Spike Another Epidemic—in Child Abuse

We’ve all felt our stress levels increase as the coronavirus crisis has deepened in North Texas communities. Anxiety about education, income and health—the building blocks needed to thrive—is at an all-time high.

On April 7, the Commissioners Court of Dallas County joined many organizations around the state and country to proclaim April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. The threat to the most vulnerable among us is immediate: school closures, movement limitations, parental substance abuse, financial stress, the disruption of routines, lack of access to mental health programs and the lack of other accessible support systems are combining to create an alarming increase in risk to children’s wellbeing and safety.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, hospitals and other healthcare providers have noticed a surge of physical and sexual child-abuse cases nationwide. Sadly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise: During the 2008 recession, deaths and trauma-related injuries among infants and children rose significantly—and that trajectory continued until the economy strengthened.

“Certainly, evidence would bear out that a spike in abuse and the incredible stress that everybody’s going through appear definitely to be linked. […] I would anticipate, unfortunately, that we will see more children who are going to suffer during this crisis,” Susan Hoff, Chief Impact & Strategy Officer, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, said in a recent interview with CBS 11.

THE STATISTICS ARE STAGGERING

Even before this crisis, the Texas statistics were heartbreaking, with 3 or more children dying of abuse/neglect every week, more than 182 confirmed victims daily, and seven or more children maltreated every single hour. Estimates from the federal Centers for Disease Control indicate that over Texas’ victims’ lifetimes, a single year’s worth of child abuse or neglect costs the state a staggering $14.1 billion.

In Dallas County during fiscal year 2019, authorities reported that 7,362 children—20 a day—were confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect. More than 1,500 children were removed from their homes, and an estimated 23 child fatalities occurred due to child abuse and neglect.

The numbers for this year will undoubtedly be much higher. It’s already getting worse: The Denton County Child Advocacy Center told United Way that March 2020 saw “the highest number of child-abuse investigations in our 22-year history.”

UNITED WAY SUPPORTS FAMILIES NOT ONLY IN CRISIS, BUT ALWAYS

Our efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect are needed now more than ever during this time. Our work does not stop here. As a part of this fight, two United Way programs are going above and beyond to adapt to the current coronavirus crisis, providing virtual services, resources and support to families.

Healthy Outcomes Through Prevention and Early Support
H.O.P.E.S. helps local parents create home environments in which young children can thrive. Working with clinics, organizations and government agencies, the program seeks to reduce instances of child maltreatment by helping improve parenting skills through instruction, support and connections to resources in the communities in which they live.

Texas Home Visiting
THVP helps good people become great parents. This free program for soon-to-be-parents and those with children under the age of five matches Dallas and Collin County families with a trained home visitor—a nurse, experienced parent, trained professional or volunteer—to answer questions, offer advice, provide support and teach parents how to prepare their kids for kindergarten.

At a time when our entire community is strained, we’d like to highlight these partner organizations and applaud the great work they’re doing to support and strengthen families in North Texas:

  • AVANCE-North Texas
  • ChildCareGroup
  • Dallas Independent School District HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters)
  • Family Care Connections
  • Family Compass
  • Lumin Education
  • Parkland Injury Prevention Center of Greater Dallas
  • Parkland Nurse-Family Partnership

HOW YOU CAN ADVOCATE

The best advocates for children during this fraught, challenging time are you:

  • Friends, neighbors and extended family members can replace the eyes and ears of teachers and counselors to report suspected child abuse.
  • Drop off small items to ease parents’ stress—anything from a couple of bags of groceries to a few rolls of toilet paper to a stack of coloring books and crayons could make a difference. ASK what you can do to help while maintaining social distancing.
  • Check in virtually with those you know who have young children, especially those under five, who are at the highest risk for abuse.
  • Pinwheels for Prevention: In 2008, Prevent Child Abuse America introduced the pinwheel as the new national symbol for child abuse prevention through Pinwheels for Prevention. Throughout April, you can celebrate the lives of loved ones by honoring them with a pinwheel. Color one in with this Pinwheels for Prevention coloring sheet—or try making your own pinwheel with this helpful guide.

If you suspect abuse or neglect, contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (TDFPS) toll-free at 1-800-252-5400, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also file a report via the TDFPS Abuse Hotline website.

For parents who’re struggling with keeping their children safe and healthy during this crisis, United Way has put together a list of resources and tips for how to parent safely.