Children and young people are normally seen by lots of different adults every day, like neighbours, grandparents and teachers. But due to coronavirus (COVID-19) we’re self-isolating, social distancing and spending much more time at home. This means some families might need extra support with parenting. And if a child is experiencing abuse, there aren’t as many opportunities for adults to spot the signs and help.
We know isolation can put some children at a greater risk of domestic abuse, neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse. It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep children safe, spot the signs of abuse and report concerns. We all need to play our part by checking in with families and reaching out for support and advice if we have any concerns.
Spotting the signs of abuse
Social distancing, self-isolating and quarantine can cause stress and changes in everyone’s behaviour. Families are under new pressures and you may worry a child is withdrawn, anxious or depressed. Spotting the signs of abuse might be more difficult and it can be difficult to know for certain if something is wrong.
If you believe a child or youth is in need of protective intervention due to abuse or neglect, you are required, by law, to report it. To report a concern, call your local CSSD office or contact your local police. If a child is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local police.
Some of the signs you may spot include:
- aggressive or repeated shouting
- hearing hitting or things being broken
- children crying for long periods of time
- very young children left alone or are outdoors by themselves
- children looking dirty or not changing their clothes
- children being withdrawn or anxious.
These signs don’t necessarily mean that a child is being abused, there could be other things happening in their life which are affecting their behaviour, but by contacting the appropriate authorities, they can help assess the situation.
Keeping in touch online and on the phone
While you won’t see children and families in the same way you did before, there are still ways you can keep in contact. And by continuing to have a relationship with a child who may be vulnerable at home, you increase the chance of being able to spot any possible signs of abuse.
- Use video calls to maintain face-to-face contact. Ask if there are apps they use to talk to friends that you can download too.
- Think about questions you could ask that will help you see what life’s like for them. Ask open-ended questions like, “tell me about your day”, “what are some good things that have happened today”, “tell me about some sad things that have happened this week” and “what’s life at home like”. It’s okay to ask similar questions – it can sometimes take time for a child to open up about what’s happening.
- Create new routines together. Activities you enjoyed in person can be recreated on video calls over the phone. You could read stories together, do colouring, share diary entries or play games.
- Give children and young people the opportunity to talk about what’s going on for them. It may take time for them to feel comfortable talking online or over the phone so try to keep in touch regularly. Talking about things like what they’re watching, reading or playing, or what they’ve had for dinner, may help them feel more comfortable. Or you could keep in touch via different apps or games.
It’s also important to support parents and carers. Ask them about how they’re coping and any worries and concerns they have. Let them know you’re there to support them if they need help.