TULSA, Okla. — Living in the time of COVID-19 with schools being closed and children being stuck at home, child welfare advocates fear there's a higher risk for child abuse.
"This is a difficult time because we are all distanced from one another," says Maura Guten, the CEO of the Child Abuse Network (CAN).
There has been a drop in child abuse reports to the state hotline since the coronavirus outbreak, and Guten says it's not because abuse is not happening.
"The main reporters of child abuse and neglect, 60% I believe come from law enforcement, teachers and family members. We’re all distanced from those people right now," says Guten.
Having less contact makes it harder to spot the physical signs of abuse, such as bruising or unexplained cuts; however, in the age of Zoom calls and video chats, you can watch out for the signs virtually.
It's important to keep an eye out for things that don't seem normal for children and pay attention to what's happening in the background.
In addition to the physical signs, Guten says there are other behaviors that could mean the child could be a victim of abuse, such as sexual knowledge or behaviors that's age inappropriate, acting out or "kids telling stories that don't really jive with what the injuries might be."
Experts say it's important to have a routine to avoid getting stressed out and prevent behaviors that could lead to child abuse, especially during the pandemic.
"Getting a lot of rest, a lot of exercise. Keeping a pretty typical routine. Obviously it’s going to be different, but having some consistency," says Guten.
CAN usually sees about 2,000 children annually, and it is bracing for an increase in the number of cases this year.
It's working closely with local law enforcement, social workers and health professionals to provide a safe place for child abuse investigations.
"Kids that come here will have a forensic interview where they talk to specially-trained interviewer whose got ample training and background in these specified techniques that are forensically and therapeutically-sound," says Guten.
The goal is to lessen the trauma. Ultimately, it's about creating awareness and making sure children know who to turn to.
"Really it’s having a safe person that they can go to that they trust," says Guten.
If you suspect there might be harm or neglect to a child, please call the Oklahoma Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-522-3511. If the child is in immediate danger, call 911.
CAN is one of several nonprofit organizations working on the "Look Out, Reach Out" campaign to spread awareness of child abuse amid the pandemic and provide helpful resources.
A different story on the topic will air every Thursday night during the month of May on 2 Works for You part of 2 Cares for the Community.
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