MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - During the stay at home order that extended from March to April, Child Protect, a children’s advocacy center in Montgomery conducted only seven forensic interviews with child abuse victims. After the order was lifted, their work has been non-stop.
“From May until now, we have seen about 68 children,” stated Jannah Bailey, Child Protect Executive Director.
Bailey says the number of weekly interviews doubled, even though children still aren’t in consistent contact with mandatory reporters like teachers, clergy, and doctors.
“When kids are in school, that is their safe place so they’re able to go and a teacher recognizes that something may be off and makes a report, so the intervention comes a lot sooner,” explained Bailey.
Early in the pandemic, experts anticipated the number of child abuse and domestic violence cases would increase by 30 percent nationwide. While the number of child abuse reports fell during the early years of the financial recession, the number of children hospitalized for abuse during that time increased, specifically in the geographic regions where foreclosure and unemployment increased.
The same stressors more than 10 years ago likely apply to this pandemic. Generally 70 percent of the cases that come through Child Protect involve sex abuse, but Bailey says they’ve seen a marked increase in severe physical abuse cases. She believes it directly correlates with the growing stress of children being at home since the spring, job and financial insecurity, and the overall emotional instability brought on by the pandemic.
“Everything has magnified and parents, you know, we need to support them,” stated Bailey. “Parents need to know that they can call us. Calling 211 is a great resource if you need extra food or if you’re in a domestic violence situation and you need shelter or that a child is in danger of abuse. We’re all in this together and we’ve got to pull together, particularly for those that are less vulnerable which are our children.”
Bailey says the lack of a stable home life brought on by layoffs and being forced to move in with family or friends may put children at an added risk.
“Be attune to your children and when they tell you what’s going on, believe them,” she added. “Call the authorities, call DHR and law enforcement so there can be intervention so that a child can heal from this.”
The team at Child Protect isn’t immune to pandemic-related stress. In addition to the added cases, fundraisers that help keep their doors open have been cancelled. Bailey says they are maintaining for now, but non-profits are taking a hit.
“We have some amazing, amazing donors who continue to support and there have been a lot of local grants and federal grants that we have been eligible for to apply to get us through this,” she said.
Despite decades of working in a difficult profession, those at Child Protect are looking inward for added support.
“All of us recognize the fact that you can’t continue to give without replenishing yourself so we are doing weekly check-ins and doing some training on compassion fatigue so that we can be stronger for the number of kids that are coming in to us,” Bailey said.
If you would like to support Child Protect’s work, click here to make a donation.