KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — April is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. Research shows during times of crisis, rates of abuse and neglect increase. National Child Abuse hotlines are also seeing a rise in reports.
Teachers and daycare workers are trained to spot signs of child abuse and neglect. However, children are staying at home due to coronavirus, away from the people trained to spot signs of abuse. Now, it's the community's responsibility to stay on the lookout for signs of abuse and neglect.
"I worry about the children in our community, the families suffering, the impact it can have," said Ada Hernandez Bell with CASA of East Tennessee. "There's also a lot that is going unseen."
She recommends family members check in with families and children.
"We've been encouraging family members, grandparents, cousins to have increased phone calls, video conferences with families," she said.
Hernandez Bell said people should ask to talk specifically with a child.
"One of my favorite questions is to ask what their highs and lows are, to give that opportunity to potentially say that a bad thing that might be going on," she said.
The more family members who reach out, the more comfortable a child feels talking with them.
Hernandez Bell also said anytime neighbors notice that a child may be acting differently, they should reach out to them. It could be a cue that their situation at home is changing.
There are several warning signs neighbors should look out for, including people coming and going from a house at different hours of the day, children outside alone and children who were usually outside and suddenly not.
"We've seen a rise in domestic violence instances during COVID-19, a rise in substance abuse relapses, overdoses, suicides and health needs in the adults in our community," said Hernandez Bell. "Many have children in their homes."
CASA advocates have increased communication with children through FaceTime and Zoom, but she still worries.
"There's a definite feeling that it's scary," she said. "I do worry about the long term impact, especially for the children in our community."
She encourages everyone to give children the opportunity to check in with school leaders or family throughout the week.
"It gives them a sense of hope and support during a really difficult time," she said.
You can report child abuse in the state by calling (877) 237-0004. If it's a life-threatening emergency, call 911.
You can find more ways to spot child abuse and neglect here.
Anyone can volunteer their time or donate to support CASA of East Tennessee’s mission to serve vulnerable children in Knox County by clicking on the link above or visiting their website at www.casaofeasttn.org.