Child Abuse Tends to Spike in Times of Crisis

Marin HHS sends warning on eve of Child Abuse Prevention Month

Calls to Marin County’s child abuse and neglect hotlines has plunged since the start of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order, raising concerns of specialists with the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

According to HHS’ Children and Family Services Division, calls to the Marin hotline (415-473-7153) averaged 23 per week in 2019, but the numbers have decreased sharply the past two months during the COVID-19 emergency. There were 12 phone referrals the week of March 23 and eight the week of March 30. Statewide, calls to similar hotlines are down 40% to 60%, according to the California Office of Child Abuse Prevention.

April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month, and HHS Child Welfare Director Bree Marchman said family members and friends need to be especially wary of tempers and tension flaring within sheltered households.

“Everything we know from our experience is that child abuse goes up in times of crisis,” Marchman said. “Statistically we saw jumps during the last economic recession, and the severity of physical abuse seen at hospitals went up as financial situation got worse. All of the stressors that typically increase risk for abuse are here – financial pressures, food insecurity, and housing insecurity, which all can lead to an increase in mental health distress and alcohol and drug use. Not to mention, domestic violence is up, and one of the most common calls we get is about kids being witness to and affected by violence in their homes.”

Dr. Jei Africa, Director of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services for Marin HHS, said there are concerns not only about physical health but mental health as well.

“Because families are sheltering in place and are in close contact, it might be hard to find the safe space to call and reach out for a resource,” he said. “All of these affect our mental well-being.”

Marchman said most of the HHS community services have moved to online meetings or telephone sessions because of physical distancing guidelines in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“Our ability to detect child abuse has decreased,” she said. “Easily half of the voices that were raised to warn us about children in danger are now silent because they are not seeing and interacting with children as they did before. It is more important than ever that our mandated reporters are vigilant, are looking out for anything concerning, and are calling our hotline to report those concerns.”

Learn more about Children and Family Services’ efforts to end abuse and neglect on its website.


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