Natividad Child Advocacy Center Says to Lookout for Child Abuse During the Pandemic
- February 9, 2021
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our nation, isolation and stress may be leading to a hidden epidemic of child abuse.
Child abuse comes in various forms, including physical, sexual, neglect, and emotional abuse. And the statistics are sobering. According to the American SPCC, one in four females and one in six males are sexually abused before turning 18. Most of their abusers are family or close family friends.
In Monterey County, sexual abuse is the most commonly reported form of abuse, followed by child neglect. Across the county and state, most schools remain closed and mandated reporters such as teachers and school officials have had little to no in-person time with their students, which experts fear has decreased reporting.
“During the pandemic, social isolation and distance learning has made it more challenging to recognize signs of child abuse. During any type of interaction whether in person or virtual, if you see or hear something that doesn’t feel right, try to ask questions about home life and report any concerning findings.” said Sally P Archer Advocacy Center Director and Natividad Pediatric Hospitalist Raul Lara, MD. “Talking with kids in your extended family regularly over the phone or on Facetime is a great way to connect with them, and it might help you recognize any early signs of child abuse.”
Natividad’s Sally P Archer Child Advocacy Center and Bates-Eldredge Child Abuse Clinic is the only service of its kind in Monterey County. Healthcare providers at the clinic perform medical-legal examinations to help evaluate suspected or actual child abuse cases and provide documented evidence to assist in the prosecution of criminal cases. The clinic also provides forensic interviewing conducted by highly qualified and credentialed interviewers.
“During this time of heightened stress, we must come together and report early signs of abuse,” Dr. Lara said. “Our multidisciplinary team, which consists of both hospital staff and community partners, works tirelessly to serve those who have been affected by abuse.”
The Natividad Child Advocacy Center, together with community partners offers legal aid, counseling services, on-site victim advocacy, education and referrals for mental and behavioral health services. The National Children’s Alliance (NCA) recently reaccredited the center for an additional five-year term, ensuring that all children receive consistent, evidence-based services that help them heal.
“We’ve created a center that feels like a home with a child-friendly atmosphere,” said Sheree Goldman, Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator. “From the gowns we provide, to the toys the kids can play with to the way we’ve decorated the bathroom — we do everything we can to alleviate fear and make our center more welcoming and comfortable.”
The center conducts examinations and assessments using mainly a visual approach, especially with children. Goldman said that parents are relieved when they find out how its investigations are minimally invasive.
“When a child comes into the center, we work to keep the kids engaged and use it as a time to educate them about their bodies,” Goldman said. “There is no shame in coming into the Child Advocacy Center for an assessment. Our team of trained professionals provides a high level of care that makes everyone feel safe and heard.”
Natividad medical experts urge parents and all in the community to recognize the following signs of abuse:
- Sudden changes in behavior
- Unexplained bruises or pattern of injuries
- Withdrawals from normal daily activities
- Frequent absences from class or scheduled activities
If you see or know a child in danger, please call Monterey County Child Protective Services at (800) 606-6618 or visit www.mcdss.co.monterey.ca.us/families/ for additional resources.