By Darian Young, Family Preservation Coordinator, FireLodge Children & Family Services
In a time of social distancing, a result of the global pandemic that is COVID-19, the possibility of children being abused and neglected might be rising. Child care centers temporarily closed, and school and church services have gone virtual. There is record unemployment and financial struggles, food insecurity, families in constant company with one another, and high stress or anxiety. Therefore, there are more stressors on families than ever, and children are also isolated from others who care outside the home.
Reports indicate child abuse and neglect referrals are down drastically nationwide, approximately 50 percent in Oklahoma. But history tells us that in times of crisis, child abuse and neglect spikes, and many child welfare programs are left feeling anxious that children in their communities are at risk with no one reporting.
Additionally, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children conducted a nationwide study in March in the midst of this pandemic. It produced alarming results that showed the majority of Americans are, in fact, not willing to report excessive physical punishment to the police or child protective services. The majority of adults would not be very likely to have a direct conversation with a parent they know is excessively spanking or physically punishing their child; and the majority of adults are not very likely to call 911 or report to the police if they saw a stranger excessively spanking or physically punishing a child.
In Oklahoma, as in most states across the nation, every adult is considered a “mandated reporter.” What that means is that if you were to suspect or be knowledgeable of a child being abused or neglected, it is required by law that you take a step in and contact the authorities or a child welfare agency to make a referral. In Oklahoma, the OKDHS Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline is 1-800-522-3511 and is accessible 24/7. Typically, referrals come in from mandated reporters such as educators or childcare workers, who are now unable to make those referrals because they are not seeing their classroom full of children each day.
Mary Pulido of NYSPCC stated, “If what you see in public is enough to even make you think about calling the authorities, think of what that child could be enduring at home, behind closed doors.”
FireLodge Children & Family Services urges everyone to reach out and make connections through this difficult time and times still to come, whether that is checking in on your neighbors, family members and friends, or maybe going out of your comfort zone and offering a helping hand to strangers around you. It is also vital that you in the community are reaching out to vulnerable families who you know were already dealing with struggles prior to COVID-19, such as poverty, domestic violence, child maltreatment, substance abuse or mental health.
To the families who might be struggling in these difficult times, please know there are many programs in your community that are willing to help. For Native American families who are specifically involved with the child welfare system, please understand FireLodge Children & Family Services Family Preservation Program is here to help support you through this journey.
If you have questions related to the Family Preservation Program, please contact our office today at 405-878-4831 or email Darian Young at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is absolutely no shame in reaching out for help. We continue to serve during this pandemic. To stay up to date on our program, visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/CPNfirelodge.