WASHINGTON – Christina J. Allen has never seen so many families flee domestic violence. Allen, executive director of the FamilyTime Crisis and Counseling Center in Humble, Texas, said many women and children seeking help during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic had to be turned away because there was no just not enough beds for everyone. shelter.
Allen is one of many domestic violence aid workers closely monitoring a growing debate in Congress about whether to step up measures to prevent child abuse, including providing $ 270 million to local shelters like his. .
The proposal passed by the House in March and submitted for debate in the Senate aims to protect millions of children from violence as families hit hard by unemployment and other stresses caused by the pandemic see an increase in cases of abuse.
The proposed legislation aims to provide more education on child abuse and how to detect it, fund community-based programs that address substance abuse disorders, and support tribal and immigrant communities, who are disproportionately vulnerable to it. poverty.
Reports of child abuse plunge into pandemic as children miss school
An Associated Press analysis found that reports of child abuse have plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic as children are out of the public eye.
The measure would also require the Department of Health and Human Services to take a closer look at how children are treated in state childcare systems.
In the Senate, Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina are working to pass the bill after the Senate last year refused to advance the measure.
“It is essential that we recognize and understand the extent of child abuse and neglect during and after the pandemic and that we do all we can to better protect children in our country. There is no greater responsibility we have to the next generation than to keep them safe, ”Burr said in a statement.
Murray urged senators to support the bill. “This bipartisan bill is a critical and necessary step in our efforts to ensure the safety of every child and strengthen our system of child protection services,” she said in a statement.
This bill was presented unanimously on Thursday by the Senate committee on health, education, work and pensions.
“Every child deserves to live in a safe, secure and stable environment. It is not controversial. It is not partisan,” Murray said at the hearing.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she had not previously supported the legislation because it did not include support for tribal communities.
“Having the political will to be able to provide them with the resources to stop this cycle of trauma and abuse is what we need to do,” Murkowski said at the meeting.
Experts said the pandemic has left more families at home together for extended periods of time at a time of economic loss and global anxiety, creating fertile ground for more cases of child abuse across the country. Many children who have already been able to escape abusive guards at schools and youth programs have been cut off from these safe spaces. Social pressure, poverty, and mental health issues are all factors that can lead to child abuse.
During the pandemic, hospitals have seen a decline in emergency room visits linked to child abuse, but an increase in injuries linked to child abuse, including head injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Calls reporting abuse to the Childhelp National Child Abuse helpline, an Arizona-based nonprofit dedicated to the prevention and treatment of abuse, increased nearly 14% last year. At one point, the kids started texting the hotline asking for help.
“We have seen children trapped at home with abusers,” said Daphne Young, communications manager at Childhelp.
Young said that once the kids go back to school and school officials start investigating the bruises and scars again and hear stories about what happened during quarantine, “We can see another pandemic: a pandemic of abuse, ”she said.
Domestic violence service providers said a key piece of the legislation is additional funding to provide support to overwhelmed community providers.
Denise Duval, founder of Child Therapy Chicago, a therapy center to help children and families in difficult life situations, said the measure could help fund therapy centers that would otherwise not be able to provide care for families in need. Duval said fewer families of color sought treatment in his private practice last year due to the pandemic.
Allen, of the FamilyTime Crisis and Counseling Center, said faith-based community programs could help families identify child abuse, as well as how to prevent and treat it.
“We know that what comes from the pulpit or the altar carries a lot of weight in this country… it’s a reliable source,” Allen said. “The best solution is for us to prevent it before it happens, not to continue to be in this reactive mode where what we do is respond and react after the abuse has taken place.”