Recognizing Child Abuse when Interacting Virtually

 

With most in-person activities moving to virtual platforms in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, many are asking “How will we know if child abuse is happening?” 


In fact, we know that calls to report suspected child abuse and neglect to ChildLine have dropped by 50% since the social distancing efforts have gone into effect. Although many of the warning signs of child abuse remain the same, here are some tips, signs, and suggestions to help mandated reporters protect kids and know when to make that report of suspect child abuse or neglect.   


  • First, know that stressors within the family often increase instances of physical abuse to children. During this time of high stress on parents and caregivers, we know that abuse is increasing, even though the number of cases being reported have declined. Hospitals across the country are already seeing an increase in severe cases of physical abuse to children. Be prepared to report when you suspect abuse by keeping ChildLine’s information handy. A report to ChildLine can be made by calling 800-932-0313 or making the report online at https://www.compass.state.pa.us/cwis

  • Encourage the professionals from youth serving agencies to hold regular virtual sessions with the children they serve during times of social distancing. By seeing the children through these virtual platforms, you may be able to see if a child has injuries. Pay special attention to any injuries on their neck or near their ears or patterned marks on the face as these are highly indicative of abuse. Also pay attention to what is happening and being said in the background with family members; it can be surprising what you see and hear during a virtual session in the home. 

  • Lack of participation in virtual school or a decline in grades could be a sign that something is wrong in the home. If possible, consider reaching out to the parents/caregivers to offer support. It could be that the family is still adjusting to the new “normal” or there may be significant stressors in the family that your agency could help with by connecting them with resources. By addressing stressors within the family, you can help reduce the likelihood of abuse or neglect occurring. 

  • Understand that children are online more than ever before and therefore there is a higher risk of online perpetrators trying to engage them in sexual talk and activities virtually. Encourage the children you work or volunteer with to tell you or another trusted adult if they ever feel unsafe or if someone makes them feel uncomfortable.  

 

  • Children are more likely to express their concerns, frustrations and disclose abuse through social media and other online forums during this time. Consider providing online communication networks for children to communicate with your agency.

 

  • Revise your agency’s child protection policy to include this new virtual world.  While connection with kids virtually is encouraged, it also opens the door for staff with ill-intent to engage children in sexual talk or other abusive behaviors. Consider building in safeguards such as always cc’ing another staff person on emails to children, always having two adults on calls/virtual sessions, and recording all virtual calls/sessions are wise additions to your child protection policy.  

 

  • Schedule training for all your staff and volunteers working with children on how to recognize and report suspected child abuse.  Contact PFSA at training@pa-fsa.org to schedule a virtual training session free of charge. 

 

  • As always, you know the kids you work with best. If something doesn’t seem right and you suspect possible abuse or neglect, it is always best to make that call to ChildLine so that the situation can be assessed or investigated further. 

     

    Additional Resources on this topic:

  • Responding to Child Abuse During a Pandemic: 25 Tips for MDTs:  

https://cdn2.zeroabuseproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Responding-to-Child-Abuse-During-a-Pandemic.pdf

  • Conducting and Defending a Pandemic-Era Forensic Interview:  

https://cdn2.zeroabuseproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Conducting-and-Defending-Pandemic-Era-Forensic-Interview-FINAL-1.pdf  

 

If you need help with finding resources for families or want further information on what you can do during the pandemic to assist families, email us at info@pa-fsa.org.

 

 

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