MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The welfare of children, especially those who are only attending virtual school, has been a chief concern during the pandemic. While the number of new child abuse cases didn’t show up immediately, Montgomery is now experiencing a serious spike.
Child Protect, a child advocacy center in Montgomery, sees hundreds of abuse victims walk through their doors every year. Jannah Bailey, Child Protect’s executive director, says the landscape has shifted over the last few months.
“We have seen such an increase in severe physical abuse and domestic violence, which that usually we see more sexual abuse,” Bailey noted.
In the first quarter of the new fiscal year, Child Protect nearly doubled its caseload compared to the same time in 2020.
“I will celebrate 20 years (at Child Protect) in April and I will tell you that the past year especially from May 1 until today has been some of the most challenging,” she acknowledged. “Things we just never thought that we would see.”
The agency brought on an additional full-time counselor to help meet the demand, but they still have a waiting list.
Child Protect offers counseling to victims of abuse. Given the circumstances of the pandemic, they feel that counseling mission could be expanded to all children who are struggling as a byproduct of the pandemic.
“Not knowing what the future holds, we know that there are going to have to be more mental health services offered to these kids,” Bailey said. “We’re hoping that in the fall that we’re going to have some master-level interns that can come in and help with that caseload as well. We’re trying not to turn anybody away.”
It may be some time before we fully realize the scope of child abuse during the pandemic. Teachers are another level of protection for students as mandatory reporters of child abuse, but in Montgomery only about 25% of public school students returned to in-person learning.
“Teachers are the (mandatory reporters) that make the most reports because they see the kids more than anybody nine months of the year, all day long,” Bailey explained. “They can notice those changes and they’re there to recognize and listen to those kids, and we’ve taken that out.”
Bailey says Child Protect is working to notify MPS of any students who may be struggling in the event they need additional services or help at school. Especially if the student is learning from home and hasn’t been seen by the teacher in a number of days.
“These children are at home trying to learn, they’re away from their friends or a safe place which is school and their teachers,” explained Bailey. “They are now subject to the stress of adults.”
Bailey reminds parents that children can absorb the stress they are feeling. She says there’s no reason to go at this alone.
“There are resources out there and we may not be able to provide the direct services, but we know where resources are and we are able to refer these families to those services,” she stated. “If a parent just wants to call and talk to somebody, I’m not a counselor but I’m a mom and a grandmother and I’m in this too, I will listen.”
Experts say it’s never been more important to keep a watchful eye out for the children around you, their behavior often gives the alert that something is wrong.
If you suspect a child is a victim of abuse, anonymous reports can be made to a county DHR office. Contact information can be found here.
You can learn more about the signs of symptoms of child abuse here.
“They’re going through a lot and they’re not always going to know how to express it,” Bailey said of children who may be victims of abuse. “It could come out as very angry or it could come out that they become very quiet and withdrawn, it’s important to pay attention to the signs. "