The need for physical distancing to prevent transmission of the virus has resulted in heightened family stresses, changes to normal routines, restricted movement, and increased physical separation of family, friends, and community.
“Children may be disconnected from other important care providers, such as extended family and friends,” says Dr. Nita Jain, medical director of the Child Protection Service Unit at BC Children’s Hospital. “These watchful eyes can serve as lifelines for vulnerable children.”
Though some schools and daycares may reopen mid-May with B.C.’s Restart Plan, many children are learning at home, without those critical connections. Children who are being abused or neglected are more likely to go unnoticed.
As an example, from the time the pandemic hit the province in mid-March until early May, the number of child protection reports received by the Ministry of Children and Family Development are down by 23 per cent, or more than 1,500 reports, from the same time frame last year. This year’s reports are also down by 29 per cent, or more than 2,000 reports, from the same time in 2018.
“Those reports could be situations where children may need help,” says Jain.
At the same time, children have been raising red flags. The Kids Help Phone has seen a 400 per cent increase in calls related to the pandemic since early March.
Any form of domestic abuse in the home, including between partners, is considered child abuse. Neglect can also happen when the services families had once used are no longer available. This can result in a lack of food, housing, medical care, education, supervision or emotional support.
So what can you do?
Include checking in on friends and family as part of your physical distancing plans. Keep an eye out for signs of distress. A change in a child’s demeanor or behaviour can be a sign of tensions at home.
“Even without any overt signs, just doing small favours can ease tensions for a family you think may need help,” says Jain. “Help with meals, grocery shopping or just a quick chat can make a big impact for everyone involved.”
If you are concerned about the welfare of a child, please call 9-1-1 or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. More information can also be found on the BC Children’s Hospital website.
“You may feel reluctant to report what you’ve seen,” says Jain. “But, I would encourage you to err on the side of safety for the child. Your call may result in much-needed resources for a family. Your call may save a child’s life.”