Researchers highlight risks for children in terms of abuse and neglect during pandemic
As well as the economic and health issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic globally, the potential danger to vulnerable children who may be at higher risk of abuse and neglect has been noted by a team of researchers involved with the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC).
With families facing an unprecedented period of crisis, decision makers have a duty to help all children, but especially those already vulnerable, to survive the pandemic, at every stage. Failing to do so, APSAC said, will lead to negative consequences across the board.
An alert in relation to the issue was prepared by two University Of Connecticut (UConn) specialists in child neglect issues, Megan Feely, Assistant Professor of Social Work, and Kerri Raissian, Associate Professor of Public Policy, and their collaborators, Lindsey Bullinger, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Georgia Tech, and Will Schneider, Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. All are Doris Duke Fellows for the Promotion of Child Well-Being.
Sudden unemployment due to shutdowns in many sectors and industries, coupled with education setting closures and limited access to essential services has resulted in global downturns which have impacted on families.
Children in low-income families are especially vulnerable to these changes, the research team said, as parents may now not be working and are unpaid, awaiting unemployment benefits, or may be in essential jobs such as food service or health care at a time when typical childcare arrangements are hard or even impossible to arrange.
The researchers say many families were already struggling to provide necessities, such as sufficient nutrition, housing, and basic health care. The pandemic has critically increased the severity of these needs.
“This is particularly challenging for single-parent families who are making really hard choices about working, caring for their families, and trying to stay healthy,” Ms Feely said. “Without policy and support, this is an impossible task.”
Noting that, while these issues exist currently, there will also be long-term child neglect concerns as the pandemic continues to spread across the world and lingers over weeks and months. The emergency measures will continue to impact lives after COVID-19 runs its course, including the needs of staff in children’s services agencies who may experience the same financial hardships and child care challenges as their clients.
In the American context, researchers noted, “this pandemic is going to last a longtime, and we aren’t just going to pop out of this. Families won’t just rebound and accumulated debt won’t just disappear. Policy supports have got to exist for the long haul to support families at every stage.”
The researchers recommend that frontline staff in family and child services agencies provide support to help reduce the risk of child neglect, including assisting families to obtain services, maintain contact with families, and keep them updated on support programs.
“Parenting is the most essential job there is. Parenting is also relentless, with no pay and a lot of essential costs. Parents need time and money. Decision-makers may not be able to do much about the time pressures, but they can help to advance policy and private foundation support to get families flexible cash so they can meet their immediate and dire needs,” Associate Professor Raissian said.