Preventing Child Abuse - A Parent's Role During Difficult Times
Original Publish Date: April 7th, 2020
Initial public awareness campaigns to prevent child abuse targeted parents, invoking such messages as Take time out, don’t take it out on your kid and It shouldn’t hurt to be a child. Yes, the prevention field worked hard to expand public resources to augment parental capacity, developing a plethora of services including parent education classes, family support groups, and early home visiting. Such efforts have proved essential in leveling the playing field and offering many parents access to the resources needed prevent child abuse.
Today, as families face mandatory “stay at home” orders and are told to maintain a physical distance from anyone outside their immediate household, primary caretakers are feeling they have sole responsibility to keep their children safe. And they shoulder this burden surrounded by a universal health and economic crisis fraught with uncertainty, stress and heightened anxiety. Parents have greater responsibilities but feel less safe and in control of their own lives today than they did even a month ago. The potential negative impact of this situation on parental capacity is undeniable. While most parents will manage their responsibilities and keep their children safe from adverse outcomes even in these difficult times, many will be overwhelmed. There is no shortage of information on how parents should manage the COVID-19 crisis. The internet is full of advice. However, in times of cognitive overload it is important to streamline information and offer parents a limited number of actions steps that they can comprehend. Minimizing the risk of child maltreatment within this unpredictable context may hinge on parents doing three things.
First, keep it simple. This is not the time for perfection. Implementing every program that you have read about to stimulate your child’s development or craft the perfect “home school program” is not necessary. What is important is that you remain emotionally available to your children and assure them you are doing all you can to keep them safe. For those with young children, make sure you have removed any safety hazards from your home – kids now have lots of time to explore cabinets and climb around furniture. Double check that any space children can access is free of harmful material and that whatever mess they produce will not harm them.
Second, carve out time for yourself. For those who are co-parenting with another adult, set up a child care schedule so that each caretaker as some self-care time. Older children also can be empowered to help entertain and care for their younger siblings. Use your free time to regroup emotionally and physically, doing an activity that offers you a sense of satisfaction. If you can go outside safety, take a walk or simply sit in the backyard. If you are on your own caring for young children, consider nap time your time. Make a phone call to a friend, read book, close your eyes. And remember that even a fussy baby can manage on her own for some time if she is in a safe and secure place.
Third, ask for help. Everyone needs help, even in the best of times. And these are far from the best of times. There may be fewer resources accessible for families these days, but help does exists. To access it, however, you will need to seek it out. If you feel overwhelmed or unsafe, call a local parent help line or family resource center, reach out to your minister or family friend to seek advice on resources that are available, or contact local protective services. It can be difficult to ask for help for fear others will judge you. However, these are extraordinary times that require parents to demonstrate extraordinary courage and resolve to protect their children.
The COVID-19 pandemic does not need to result in increased rates of child maltreatment, domestic violence or other adverse outcomes for children. These outcomes can be prevented if all parents focus on the basics and reach out to others when they need help. Equally important is the obligation of everyone to respond to those calls for assistance whether they come from a client, a family member or a friend. Everyone has a role to play in preventing child abuse and protecting children and it will require everyone doing their role to flatten the child abuse curve.
For additional information on this topic, visit Prevent Child Abuse America's website to view information on parenting and local chapters available in different states.
This blog is shared on the Early Childhood Connector (ECC) News to support the goal of elevating community voices. This Community Blog by Deb Daro Ph.D was originally posted in the COVID-19 Community group. Share how COVID-19 has affected you, your community, your state, and our country by joining the community. Registered members can comment on this blog post below - please note that all comments are public.
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