Authorities have received fewer reports of child abuse in Pennsylvania during the pandemic, but neighbors still have the chance to spot kids who need help.
With warmer weather and more social activities as COVID-19 vaccinations become more accessible, there may be more opportunities to check on kids, child abuse experts say. Even if you see some children and families in the neighborhood less regularly, advocates say there are ways you can help kids who may be in trouble.
ChildLine, the state-run hotline for child abuse and neglect, can be reached at 1-800-932-0313. It’s open 24/7. For those who are deaf or hearing impaired, call 1-866-872-1677.
Listen to your kids
Parents can learn from their own children about kids in their neighborhood or school who may be victims of abuse or neglect, said Angela Liddle, president and CEO of PA Family Support Alliance.
“Kids have a sense of what’s going on with their friends, even if they’re not there everyday,” Liddle said. “Pay attention big time to anything your children are telling you about their friends.”
Keep your eyes open
As kids are outside more often in the coming months, there will be chances to see kids who may need help.
“If you see kids who are very young and aren’t supervised, try to check on them a bit,” Liddle said. “If it seems to be a chronic situation, that is certainly something you would want to support.”
Some signs of abuse could include bruises or welts or extreme changes in behavior, either withdrawal or aggression. If kids are consistently dressed inappropriately for the weather, that could be a sign of neglect, experts say.
Trust your gut
Some parents can be leery of reaching out to authorities because they don’t want to issue a report that could be unfounded and potentially hurt parents who have done nothing wrong. Dr. Rachel Berger, a child abuse expert at UPMC, said parents should worry less about making a potentially false report and err on the side of protecting a child.
“They’re not wrong about their concern,” Berger said. “They may not be right about the abuse.”
Dr. Lori Frasier, a child abuse pediatrician with Penn State Health and a member of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, talked about the importance of reaching out to families who may be going through a difficult time. It could be anything from a kind word or a gesture as simple as offering to pick something up at the grocery store.
“If you see people that are stressed, do what you can within the parameters of social distancing,” Frasier said. “I think it’s a time to be neighborly.”
Take a breath
For parents who are feeling stressed, Berger said it’s important to know when to take a breath or walk away when they’re feeling angry or overwhelmed.
“Go for a walk,” Berger said. “We recognize it’s extremely stressful.”
“The most important thing is to walk away if you think you’re going to lose it,” she said. “You’ll definitely regret it if you’ll lose it.”
From Penn Live, March 22, 2021