What if Home Isn’t Safe?

By Selma Pierce (with additional information from Liberty House, a Child Abuse Assessment Center)

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.  Before the coronavirus pandemic, every April, a tree near the Capitol is covered with blue ribbons.  Each ribbon stands for a confirmed case of child abuse in our area.  In Marion and Polk Counties, there are on average over 1,100 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect each year, and over 10,500 calls to the child abuse hotline.

When we think of home, we think of safety and comfort.  For some children, this is not the case.  Home can be a fearful place due to child abuse and/or neglect.  During the current school shutdown, kids are away from teachers, childcare workers, medical and dental providers, and extracurricular instructors who are the people who have their eyes on kids.  These people are usually the supportive adults and mandatory reporters who raise the alarm if something seems amiss with a child.

DHS normally receives more than 700 calls a day regarding possible child abuse.  Since the Governor’s stay at home orders in March, and the closing of schools and childcare, there are fewer than 300 calls a day.  Fewer calls reporting suspected child abuse or neglect does not mean that it’s not happening.  At the same time, calls to domestic violence hotlines, suicide prevention hotlines, cyber-bullying hotlines and youth calls to the National Sexual Assault & Abuse Hotlines are way up.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing, economic instability and uncertainty about public health safety, everyone is stressed.   For some people, this can lead to difficulty with coping, increased alcohol and/or drug use, exacerbate mental health issues, or higher levels of anger that impact vulnerable children.  It is up to all of us, other family members, friends and neighbors to be mindful of what is happening to children we know or see.

What are the signs in a child that shows something is not right?  There are changes in behavior (scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn), a return to earlier behaviors (thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark, fear of strangers), a fear of going home, unusual fear of a familiar person, changes in eating (weight gain or weight loss), changes in sleeping (nightmares, tiredness), changes in academic performance (concentration) and in doing schoolwork, a lack of personal care or hygiene, an increase in risk-taking behavior (drugs or alcohol), inappropriate sexual behavior (language or knowledge), or unexplained injuries (or inconsistent reasons for injuries).

If you suspect child abuse or neglect, please call the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline at 1-855-503-SAFE (7233).  The call will be answered 24/7, 365 days a week.  You can also call 911, the police or sheriff or other law enforcement. You will not be deciding if child abuse or neglect is occurring, but you are calling attention to families that may need help.

For older children or youth who may be experiencing similar problems at home, they may also call the Oregon YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491 or contact them at https://oregonyouthline.org for help and support.

It’s all of our responsibility to protect children and support families.  There are agencies such as Family Building Blocks, CASA, Liberty House, Boys and Girls Club, HOME, YMCA, and the Kroc Center that can help strengthen families and ensure that children are helped during normal days and these uncertain times.  Please support them.

We wish for all of our children to be healthy and thriving.  We wish that childhoods are full of wonder and are carefree, just as a pinwheel spins freely in the wind.