OPELIKA, Ala. (WTVM) - With shelter in place orders in effect across Alabama and Georgia and schools closed, children are spending more time at home. Some child advocacy groups said this could be a problem for the safety of some children in our area.
For some children, school is a safe haven, an escape from a turbulent home or an abusive family.
“There was a child I interviewed and she was just like, ‘I don’t want to be out for Christmas. I want to be at school. That’s where I feel safe, and I’m just not ready to not be in school anymore,’” Katherine Cochrane, the program coordinator at Twin Cedars Child Advocacy, said.
Some child advocacy groups said they are concerned about children suffering abuse in the coming weeks while families are forced to shelter at home and parents are now responsible for teaching their children.
“There’s been a lot of stress and strain being put on families with schools closing, work closing, just a lot of uncertainty," Cochrane said. “When you combine all of those factors, and you add this pandemic on top of that, they don’t know how to respond to that or how to react to that.”
Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said he expects to see a rise in the number of child abuse cases.
“We always see an uptick in child abuse cases when children are at home more, whether it’s Christmas vacation, spring break, that sort of thing,” he said. “We certainly expect an increase in child abuse cases right now.”
But child advocacy groups are also concerned we won’t see reports of this abuse until months later, when children go back to school.
“These educators aren’t going to have their eyes on the children until August,” Cochrane said. “So we’re talking about five months where they are socially isolated from all of these other care providers that are going to be the primary mandatory reporters.”
That why experts say it is crucial to check in with others now.
“Child abuse is prevalent,” Hughes said. “I assure you it’s more prevalent than you believe. It’s going on in your neighborhoods, it’s going on with your neighbors. If you see something, say something.”
Cochrane said just because people have to be socially distance does not mean they have to be socially isolated.
"If you have people you know are experiencing high levels of stress, check in on them. call them, FaceTime them, " she said. “Set up virtual play dates. Any level of support the community, friends, can do, is going to help them during this time.”