The U.S. Child Protective Services (CPS) agency has been receiving significantly fewer reports since the onset of COVID-19. Experts worry that children at risk for abuse and neglect are being ignored. In response, Upbring Innovation Labs identified 5 innovative ways that community members can protect children at risk during these uncertain times.
Why are children at risk?
Prior to the pandemic, educators and physicians were the primary reporters of child abuse and neglect. Due to shelter-in-place orders, those advocates have had little to no access to children at risk for abuse and neglect since school closures in March/April. Now, as children return to school and childcare facilities open again, agencies are bracing for impact.
“The number of child abuse investigations, homicide investigations, in the state went up 50% during the third quarter of this year, compared to the third quarter of last year,” says Lynn Davis, President and CEO of the Dallas Child Advocacy Center, “and that’s alarming to us” That agency alone is preparing for a 30 percent increase.
While children are returning to school this Fall, it is far from “business as usual.” Doctors are warning of COVID-19 mutations and the second wave . Meanwhile, child advocates are simultaneously preparing for another potential lockdown and catching up on the backlog of reports flooding in from the first. This ever present instability has left educators, social workers, parents, and community members again feeling at a loss of how to identify and protect children at risk for abuse and neglect in this new chaotic reality.
At Upbring Innovation Labs (UIL), we believe with every challenge comes unique opportunity and every problem can be met with a creative solution. With former paths to care challenged by social distancing orders, UIL identified 5 innovative ways providers and concerned citizens can act now to safely protect children at risk during the COVID-19 era.
1. Rethink Your Donations
Most direct youth service providers are nonprofit organizations; therefore, they largely depend on grant funding and donations. The pandemic has threatened those two funding sources via government budget cuts and canceled fundraising events. Nonprofits are pivoting towards creative online options, such as UIL’s online marketplace or Livestream benefit concerts. The best way for the community to support nonprofits is to give what they can in time and resources so that they can continue operating at full capacity to deliver necessary goods and services to protect children at risk for neglect and abuse. If you planned to attend an in-person event that was canceled, attend a virtual event instead and consider donating.
2. Use QR Codes
Various government agencies have been utilizing QR codes on materials they send youth so they can self-report. QR codes are machine-readable codes consisting of an array of black and white squares, typically used for storing URLs or other information for reading by the camera on a smartphone. Government agencies such as the New Jersey Department of Children and Families created a QR code for providers serving youth that directs users to a resource page with language and messaging designed specifically for child comprehension. In addition, studies confirm that 95 percent of American teens have access to a smartphone. An audible phone call could draw suspicion if a child is stuck in the house with an abuser. A QR code provides a discreet method for educators and physicians to prompt children at risk for abuse and neglect to self-report.
3. Target Social Media Ads
Child abuse and domestic violence hotlines exist in every state, most with text and call capabilities (Childhelp, National Domestic Violence, TX DFPS, etc.). The issue is that youth are less inclined to know those resources exist or seek out knowledge to self-report. However, 81 percent of children age 11 or younger watch YouTube, and approximately half of all teens ages 13 to 17 use Instagram and Facebook regularly. Providers serving youth, such as government agencies and schools, have the option to purchase age-appropriate advertisements on these platforms and target them towards children at risk for abuse and neglect
4. Drive-through Service Points
Video conferencing technology is useful, but it is also limited in its capability of allowing onlookers to identify abuse and neglect, as abusers (usually in-house family members) can control what is seen and heard. Yet, there are still ways for providers to get their eyes on children at risk during this time of social distancing. Schools, municipal offices
, and churches often have unused parking lots that are perfect for administering drive-through services. The benefits of setting up free services such as medical check-ups by pediatricians and school nurses, check-ins with social workers, or food assistance pick up in these spaces are three-fold. First, they allow families to access services they may not be able to afford in a time of high unemployment. Second, they get families out of the house, which is often the environment where abuse occurs. Lastly, providers are able to see children and youth in person and better identify signs of abuse and neglect.
5. Modify Caretaker Training
CPS provides an essential service; thus, they have not stopped monitoring, removing, or placing children during the pandemic. However, foster parent and respite caretaker (babysitter for foster children) verification has slowed. Verification processes vary by state, but in Texas, a prospective foster parent must undergo approximately 40 hours of training, mostly in-person. Child placement agencies should consider modifying their curriculum to be taken partially online (Upbring’s current practice) and institute drive-through/socially distant sessions to facilitate the verification process. More caretakers mean more eyes on children at risk of abuse or neglect. More foster parents ultimately result in more placements and more permanency for children in foster care. Visit Upbring’s website to find out more about becoming a verified foster parent or respite caretaker in Texas.