COVID-19 pandemic continues to place children at increased risk for abuse in home
Child Advocacy Center at BestSelf
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt schooling and everyday life for families throughout our region, officials at the Child Advocacy Center at BestSelf (CAC) caution that cases of child abuse may continue to go unreported. At-risk children have been learning remotely at least part-time, without educators and other professionals who commonly recognize the signs of abuse and report it.
CAC officials say April’s National Child Abuse Prevention Month takes on added significance this year and encourage the Western New York community to participate in “Wear Blue Day” April 1 to support the cause. The CAC at BestSelf’s campaign for National Child Abuse Prevention Month is sponsored by M&T Bank and WGRZ-TV.
Thousands of children in Western New York are abused every year. Erie County experiences the second-highest number of child abuse and neglect cases in New York state. Throughout the early stages of the pandemic, reports of child abuse were down significantly. In March 2020, the CAC received 18 reports of possible abuse, compared to 94 children in March 2019. In March 2021 there have been 70 reports to date, so although this number is up from a year ago, it is still below the usual level, raising concerns many children in our community need help.
“The drop in reported cases continues to be very concerning, and we feel it’s vitally important this year to raise awareness for this issue and educate the community about the signs a child is being physically or sexually abused,” says Rebecca Stevens, director of the CAC at BestSelf. “With children having limited to no face-to-face contact with teachers, who are the No. 1 reporters of child abuse and neglect, fewer calls were made this past year. In this remote learning environment, teachers are less able to see the signs of abuse, and less able to build rapport with children to gain their trust. Additionally, pediatricians and hospitals – other common sources of reports – are seeing fewer patients, with telehealth appointments on the rise and parents avoiding in-office checkups and the ER.”
The CAC is engaging in a series of efforts to raise awareness around child abuse prevention throughout the community.
•As part of the effort to prevent child abuse and raise awareness, CAC staff will plant 3,000 pinwheels on the lawn at 768 Delaware Ave., for the annual Pinwheels for Prevention campaign. The 3,000 pinwheels – a national symbol for child abuse prevention – represent the estimated number of children who will be abused in Erie County this year.
•During “Wear Blue Day” on April 1, a statewide effort to encourage people to wear blue to support Child Abuse Prevention Month, the CAC is running a contest for those who participate and show support on social media. Details can be found on the CAC’s website.
•On April 1, Park Edge Sweet Shoppe, at 325 Abbott Road in South Buffalo, will be donating a portion of all in-store and online Easter candy sales to the CAC.
•Through a partnership with the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, the Central Library and various other libraries will feature a display of books suggested by the CAC staff, along with information regarding child abuse and prevention, throughout the month of April.
•The CAC will post short educational videos on its Facebook page every Tuesday and Thursday throughout April featuring members of its multidisciplinary team and how they help children suffering from abuse deal with this traumatic experience.
•On April 1, Niagara Falls will be lit blue to support the cause and, on April 14, numerous city buildings and landmarks, including City Hall, One Canalside/Phillips Lytle and the Electric Tower, and will be lit blue.
“We’re asking the community to band together and support, in any way they can, this important awareness effort,” Stevens says. “And as a neighbor, caregiver, friend or family member, if you notice signs a child may be in trouble – such as sudden changes in behavior, problems with peers, loss of appetite or myriad other concerns – call Child Protective Services at 1-800-342-3720. If you see something, say something.”
A full list of signs a child is being physically or sexually abused, or neglected, plus resources for the community, are available at bestselfwny.org/cac.
The Child Advocacy Center at BestSelf is an innovative, comprehensive center offering safety, support, and a healthy place for children and families affected by trauma and abuse in Erie County. The CAC is currently exploring options to expand its services and relocate to better serve the estimated 3,000 children who are abused each year in Erie County. A community support campaign is underway to raise the necessary funds to expand and relocate the CAC and its services.