For some people, staying home may not be a big deal, but for some children, home is not the safe place it is for many of us. With the majority of the population having to stay at home and self-isolate due to COVID-19, there is reason to be concerned for children dealing with abuse in their homes.
"For some children, home is not the safe place it is for many of us."
A lot of families are already running on limited resources; it was reported that over 1 million Canadians have filed for unemployment insurance over the past two weeks because of temporary layoffs. On top of that, children are now at home due to Ontario schools being closed until at least May 6th. Both of these factors can undoubtedly put a lot of stress on parents. When a parent is under more stress, it can make the home more unsafe for a child, especially since a lot of parents do not have the right coping skills to be able to deal with stress in a pandemic, and greater stress can lead to more extreme behaviour. These new, unprecedented stressors can lead to an increase in cases of parents getting frustrated and lashing out at their children, and can happen in families that were unknown to child welfare agencies before now.
Since schools have closed, there has been a decrease in the number of child abuse cases reported to hotlines and authorities. This could be because teachers and childcare workers are required to report suspected abuse and typically are the ones looking out for children and possible signs.Teachers are normally the first person that a child will disclose abuse to, and now these children are left to cope in isolation. Typically, there is a spike in the number of reported cases when children return to school after both Summer and Winter breaks. In addition, domestic abuse victims might not want to go to a hospital to treat their injuries under the current circumstances, so there will likely be a decrease in the number of cases reported through the health care system as well.
"Teachers are normally the first person that a child will disclose abuse to, and now these children are left to cope in isolation."
There is also concern for those children who are no longer living with an abusive adult but are still dealing with the effects of their trauma. These children often deal with symptoms like depression, nightmares, and sometimes in older cases, self-harm. There is worry that being in isolation and the stress of COVID-19 could worsen these symptoms. Already, there has been an increase in the number of calls to mental health service hotlines from teens and young adults both in and out of abusive homes.
Workers at the Children's Aid Society of Toronto are still keeping up with families virtually, but not every family has access to a computer and internet. However, they are working to get some of these families a phone or computer to use to stay in contact with their CAS worker in these times. The Children's Aid Society has urged families who are struggling to cope with stress during this time to call a local CAS to get helpful strategies and advice on how to manage. They have also urged neighbours to continue calling in any reports of suspected abuse.
Currently, the Kingston Interval House is also still open and continuing service. The Kingston Youth Shelter, however, is no longer doing new intakes until further notice, and all their current residents are isolated in their own rooms.
If you are experiencing abuse during this time, don't hesitate to seek help. All emergency services are still operational, so if you are in an emergency, call 9-1-1. Kids Help Phone is also continuing to operate 24/7 across Canada, so if you need to speak with someone, day or night, call 1-800-668-6868. A full list of helplines are also available in our Resources section.
Written By: Sydney