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When stress increases, child abuse can follow

Parenting can be challenging under the best of circumstances – and few families are living in the best of circumstances right now.

Nancy Henderson, a child abuse pediatrician with Prisma Health-Upstate Children’s Hospital, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, acknowledges that there may be an increased risk of children being abused as families are weighed down by financial concerns and other stressors, as well as isolation at home associated with COVID-19.

“The shelter in place was absolutely what needed to happen,” she said. “It makes perfect sense to keep our selves safe from that one particular thing, which is huge.”

But for some children, there is violence at home and their support systems disappeared overnight.

“There are a lot of children and adolescents without that extended radar of the community – extended family, schools, neighbors,” Henderson said. “I think that physicians, pediatricians, as we’ve ramped up tele-medicine to check on families, it’s an opportunity to see families in their place and how they’re doing.”

Some families are unreachable due to a variety of reasons, including a lack of internet service or because they go between homes. As the world begins to slowly go back to some semblance of normal, those around vulnerable children will need to be ready.

“Early on, a day seemed like forever,” Henderson said. “Now, I can take a week at a time. But a month from now? August, when the kids hopefully go back to school – that seems like a year from now. We are all experiencing trauma in some way. Some much more deeply than others.”

When school does resume, teachers will face challenges as well.

“I think all kids are going to need general services, but some will need more,” Henderson said. 

For now, it is worth the effort to stay connected.

“Social distancing is on everyone’s mind,” Henderson said. “It doesn’t mean we need to distance ourselves from each other. We have to dig deep and figure out how to make those connections.”

While there is an appropriately large focus on meeting tangible needs, like addressing food insecurity or the needs of senior adults, Henderson said less tangible efforts to help can be just as important and just as life-saving for kids. 

“I think we can also check in in and say, ‘This has been tough. How are you doing? What do you need? How can we help?’ Even though we are staying six feet apart, we can still check in,” she said. “I think we’re going to get better with that as