by Peter Buckly, Sunday, May 10th, 2020.
April of each year has been designated as Child Abuse Awareness Month in our country, and this year has been different than any other. Given what is happening with our families due to the COVID-19 emergency, raising awareness and doing everything we can to support our families and protect children has become more important than ever. We can’t let the effort against child abuse be a one-month-a-year focus.
We have remarkable organizations and dedicated individuals throughout our region doing everything they possibly can—groups like the Family Nurturing Center, the Children’s Advocacy Center, Healthy Start and our local Department of Human Services. But the alarming fact is that given that children are not in the public eye at present, not physically attending daycare or school, not participating in community activities, etc., reports on possible child abuse to the DHS hotline have dropped by approximately 70%.
With the additional stress families are facing with possible job losses, financial struggles and uncertainty for the future, as well as the stress of the necessary stay-at-home order to defeat the virus, child advocates are greatly concerned with what they believe to be hundreds of cases of abuse now going unreported.
It is important to understand that child abuse rates for Jackson and Josephine counties have been among the highest in our state. Progress has been made in recent years, but with Jackson County at 16.4 cases per 1,000 children and Josephine County at 17.7 cases per 1,000 children, we remain clearly above the state average (as reported by Children First For Oregon).
Southern Oregon Success has been working for several years now to raise awareness of the long-term impacts of trauma experienced by children as they are growing up. The science behind the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs) clearly shows that abuse and other adverse experiences can lead to significant behavior problems, as well as health and mental health challenges for children and adults. The evidence is clear that when we are able to decrease childhood abuse and neglect, we greatly improve outcomes for children, families, schools and communities.
I give credit to the Oregon Department of Education and our local school districts for working to help teachers to identify signs of possible abuse, even during this period of distance learning. But it is up to all of us to make a difference. The bottom line is this: If you become concerned in any way that a child who you are in contact with might be experiencing abuse, call the DHS hotline. Their personnel are trained to talk you through the reporting process and to facilitate a check-in if needed to make sure the child is safe and well.
The hotline is 24/7, working every day of the year. If you have any concerns at all at any time, call them at 1-855-503-7233.
Peter Buckley is the program manager for Southern Oregon Success, a regional collective impact initiative hosted at the Southern Oregon Education Service District