Is the COVID-19 crisis leading to more child abuse?
As the COVID-19 health crisis continues, there is growing concern about an uptick child abuse and mistreatment in the Garden State.
Christine Norbut Beyer, the commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families, said research shows that during national emergencies like what we’re experiencing now, “families are subject to greater levels of stress and heightened anxiety just at the same time parents and children are isolated from their usual forms of support.”
She noted that increase in stress and decrease in support can lead to violence and neglect.
She said another concern is that the state is seeing fewer referrals to hotlines and help-lines.
Last March there were 7,501 referrals to the state central registry child abuse hotline. This year the number has dropped to 5,117 referrals.
She said this does not indicate there is less child abuse and neglect, but rather it is not being seen, heard or reported.
Beyer said even in normal situations, every parent needs the support of family, friends and community.
“Families are less able to connect to the kind of formal help they need and it’s harder for us to know about struggling families during times like these because many of those who serve as sentinels for children and families — teachers, coaches, counselors, pediatricians and primary healthcare professionals — don’t have the same level of contact with children and families," she said.
Beyer is urging all New Jerseyans to take proactive action.
“I’m asking each of you to be extra vigilant for those children and families who might be having a hard time right now," she said. "If you have a family member or a friend with small children, call them, check in daily, see how they’re coping, ask them if you can do anything to help relieve their stress.”
She said even small actions can mean a great deal.
“Sometimes just being able to talk it through is enough. Other times, dropping off a meal or offering to help navigate unemployment or other benefits can be the best way to help."
She also said if you know parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, “please get in touch, ask them how they’re handling the stress and if they need to be connected to a counselor.”
She said social distancing should not mean social isolation.
Anyone having a hard time coping can text NJ to the number 741741 to be connected to trained counselors at any hour.
People can also report suspected abuse to 1-877-NJ-ABUSE.