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STATEMENT: Child Protection During COVID-19 from TexProtects CEO Sophie Phillips

Mach 25, 2020 For Immediate Release Dallas, Texas — There is no doubt that the strain and stress on families during the COVID-19 crisis, and any crisis for that matter, puts children at an increased risk of negative outcomes, including that of child abuse and neglect. But it’s important to recognize that child abuse and trauma is not a new risk. It has been a longstanding public health crisis and epidemic, with more than 60,000 confirmed cases in Texas alone each year.

The closing of schools and childcare centers causing lack of childcare, piled on top of the job loss and financial struggles, food insecurity, and mental and physical health concerns during this time exacerbates the strain on families and can increase risk of maltreatment. In times of social isolation and shelter in place orders, abuse may be further hidden and make abusive situations more dire. As such, we are grateful to our first responders, health care professionals, child protective services caseworkers and early childhood workforce that are working around the clock to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our children. However, they cannot do this work alone.

As citizens, communities and leaders, we have a responsibility now more than ever to step up and be sensitive and responsive to the needs of parents and families to prevent and mitigate whatever potential increased risk we anticipate given the additional stressors on individuals, families and systems. It is in these uncertain times that communities need to protect their local children as their own and create innovative ways to build resilient communities where families can thrive despite challenging circumstances. There is no greater “essential business” currently than that of communities deploying concrete resources, services, and support to keep our families from fracturing. As to whether the increased risk of abuse during this time is realized or not, it is up to us.

Because child abuse is a community problem that needs to be tackled collectively – we all have a role to play.

The realities of this crisis are real and immediate, so we need to shift our responses and efforts to support parents who need help right now. With more time at home, parents and caregivers have a unique opportunity to build stronger, nurturing relationships with their children, which is a protective factor against trauma. But most parents have not been equipped for a time such as this, nor do they know where to turn. This crisis can be the great parent equalizer. We are all in the throes of stress and anxiety together and need practical and tangible ways to reduce stress and cope for our wellbeing, and most importantly for our children. There needs to be no stigma attached to asking for help or admitting that parenting is hard.

There are actions each one of us can take to reduce the stress and burden on ourselves and parents we know during this time. Offer to provide childcare so parents and caregivers are not in difficult situations and potentially leaving children unsupervised or in neglectful environments. Deliver a meal. Take a break or ask your spouse or partner to step in and help. Check in on your neighbor to ensure they have what they need, and most of all, remember, there is no way to be a perfect parent but millions of ways to be a good one -- so give yourself and your children an extra dose of compassion and care during these challenging days.

And certainly, report abuse either by phone: 1-800-252-5400 or online at txabusehotline.org if you suspect a child may be in danger as every adult in Texas is a mandatory reporter. To know the signs of abuse and neglect, please visit the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website.

We must be even more diligent during this time to keep a watchful eye on those that are vulnerable and reporting suspected abuse since there will be fewer eyes on our children. Teachers, childcare workers and professionals from other community-based organizations make up more than 25% of all abuse reports in Texas, so during times of school and childcare center closings, including summer break, we may see an artificial drop in child abuse cases over the next several months and a potentially overwhelmed system when children return to school.

Regardless of the impacts of COVID-19 on day-to-day operations, the Department of Family and Protective Services is still working to protect children and families and is continuing to receive calls, conduct investigations, and provide services. For children, youth and families already in the child protection system, there are many considerations that we will continue to see unfold in the coming days, weeks and months as local, state and federal authorities provide additional guidance on adherence and adjustments to current policies and procedures. In addition to the potential impact on the abuse and neglect reporting system, we may see challenges in parents’ abilities to complete service plans and a lag in children being reunified with families or adopted if courts are delayed, as well as housing issues for our older foster youth, among others.

While these remain real and concerning realities and policy changes are moving quickly to ensure our systems can rapidly respond, the work of prevention remains, and we must take control of what we can do today. You can help ensure that every child you know has a connection to a safe, responsive, and nurturing adult so that they can find a sense of security through this storm, and ensure that every family is connected to the resources they need so that they can be healthy for the children in their lives. With your extra time and any additional resources, you can find a way to offer connection and hope to the children and families in your community so that no one is left handling the stress of this pandemic alone. Despite the challenges, the time to show up for others is right now.

For families in need of help such as childcare or food, you may call 2-1-1 or visit https://www.211texas.org/. The Department of Family and Protective Services’ Help and Hope website also has many great tips for parents during this time. For additional resources or parenting support please view the TexProtects Survival Kit: A handy guide for parents and families to thrive during COVID-19.

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For interviews, please contact: Sophie Phillips, LMSW Chief Executive Officer TexProtects | Champions for Safe Children and Texas Chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America Cell (214) 846-2573 www.texprotects.org

Posted on March 26, 2020.

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