Providers at Eugene Pediatric Associates stand with pediatricians across the country who are deeply concerned that the COVID-19 health crisis has created a perfect storm when it comes to child abuse and neglect.
Calls to child abuse hotlines have gone down since stay-at-home orders took effect, however, hospitals across the country report treating more children with severe abuse injuries. We believe, as do many doctors and social workers, that the increase in injuries and reduction in reporting is due to the isolation of quarantine, in which children have lost physical contact with teachers and other mandatory reporters who are most likely to spot abuse.
“Adults and kids are experiencing a lot of really big feelings right now, and a lot of these emotions live right under the surface,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “Families are experiencing added pressures due to job loss and food insecurity, and many are cut off from their support systems.”
As a licensed clinical social worker, Sara Rich has been helping families through stressful times for more than two decades. With concerns over COVID-19, financial uncertainty and juggling working from home for parents and distance learning for children, she says families are feeling the pressures of isolation and experiencing stress in ways they haven’t before.
“I think many families are overwhelmed right now. They feel scared, hopeless and like they’re failing,” she says. “You have to take care of yourself. You have to take care of your mental health and your physical health.”
Sara encourages parents to focus on these key strategies to help diffuse emotional distress.
- Create a schedule or routine. Knowing what to expect during your day can help you feel more in control of what’s happening.
- Temper your expectations and be kind to yourself. Remember, most of us were not prepared for this. Anxiety, fear, worry and grief are all normal reactions to abnormal circumstances.
- If you find yourself getting upset with your children, separate to give yourself time to decompress.
- Get outside every day. Studies show a strong connection between time spent outdoors and a reduction in negative emotions. Simply being outside can help you feel less trapped and overwhelmed. It’s also a great way to help kids unleash some pent-up energy.
- Create moments in your day to laugh with your children. Laughter boosts endorphins, reduces stress and it makes you feel better.
“The most important thing, right now, is to stay present with your children. Stay in the moment with them, so they can feel your love and feel your strength, even if you don’t feel strong,” Sara says.
Reach out for help
Community resources are available for families who need support, including Parenting Now’s One-2-One program, which offers parents free connection and education from parenting educators through email, phone or text services.
School districts are also a resource for families during this time. In addition to technical and educational support, they are able to connect families to social services.
“Give yourself some grace and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “Kids are depending on us in new ways to keep them emotionally and physically safe at this time.”