Child protection leaders are asking the public’s help in detecting ongoing child abuse while the COVID-19 shutdowns keep kids away from the adults who normally step in to help.

Reports of child abuse have plummeted, even as family stress factors like job insecurity, food insecurity, and sickness have dis-proportionally increased in March and April – which, in a cruel irony, is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Mandated reporters for child abuse include teachers, medical providers, therapists, and clergy. None of those groups are having in-person interaction with children during the state of emergency.

The heads of the Massachusetts Children’s Alliance, Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance (MOVA) and Children’s League of Massachusetts are issuing an unprecedented joint call to the general public for help detecting possible abuse and alerting officials who can intervene to protect those children.

Whether it is neighbors seeing kids outside at play, out in public with adults, or relatives and teachers interacting with them via Zoom or other video exchange, anyone having contact with children is urged to look for these signs:

  1. Physical appearance: signs of bruises, marks, injuries, hygiene, or attire
  2. Environment: signs of violence, drug and alcohol abuse, or family dysfunction
  3. Behavior and affect: change in mood or presentation, distress, or outcries of abuse
  4. Engagement: changes in participation, interaction, and communication
  5. Supervision: access to a responsible adult and their level of involvement.

 

A child experiencing abuse may show these signs. You should notify the Department of Children and Families (DCF) if you suspect abuse by calling the DCF Child-At-Risk Hotline at (800) 792-5200.  Reports can be anonymous if necessary.

A report does not automatically trigger a child being removed from a home or a parent being in trouble; few reports result in either of those outcomes. The most common outcome is supplying services and supports to families that need them. Massachusetts has a comprehensive, trauma-informed system of response to child abuse allegations through the state’s twelve Children’s Advocacy Centers. DCF has a staff of well-trained, well-supervised, and dedicated social workers who screen reports to see what – if any – intervention or support services a child and family might need.

We are in a time like no other, with demands being made on everyone for our mutual safety. For more information about recognizing and responding to child abuse, Victim Services, and to make your voice heard, please visit our respective web sites below.

And watch the children around you as if they were your own.

  • Thomas King, Executive Director, Massachusetts Children’s Alliance
    https://www.machildrensalliance.org
  • Liam Lowney, Executive Director, Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance

https://www.mass.gov/orgs/massachusetts-office-for-victim-assistance