Calls to child abuse hotlines rise under coronavirus lockdown
Updated: May 26
In the midst of a global pandemic, stress and anxiety levels are rising along with an increase in child abuse hotline calls and hotline text messages.
The month of April is recognized as child abuse prevention month. Some children continue to face and experience challenges at home now more than ever. They’re beginning to experience a greater amount of frustration and rage from their parents.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres spoke out recently urging governments around the world to understand that “violence is not confined to the battlefield.”
Guterres addressed this situation as a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence.” Guterres also mentioned that many healthcare providers and police were understaffed.
Futures Without Violence Social Work interns Elizabeth Clendenen and Jessica Villalobos explained that due to school closures, parents are being forced to choose between taking care of their children or working, which can increase the stress families are facing during this uncertain time.
“Women and those with children at home are some of those most likely to feel additional pressure, with about three-quarters of each group saying the outbreak has caused them stress, and over 4 in 10 describing it as ‘serious,’” according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
On average, the hotline numbers are receiving the most calls from 13-year-olds to high schoolers.
“Unresolved issues are bobbling up being stuck at home,” Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline Chief Communications Officer Daphne Young said. “And frontline eyes can’t make reports.”
Young explained how teachers and counselors in schools can usually detect symptoms of cases of abuse. If students aren’t attending classes or sports regularly, or they show any other signs of possible abuse, they are mandated to file a report at the penalty of the law.
With schools closing because of the new health and safety regulations, kids no longer have teachers and counselors who can keep an eye on such matters and hold the parents accountable.
“Right now, many of us are experiencing the global pandemic as a collective trauma. This trauma, even though it’s different, can especially trigger people with histories of trauma, including child abuse,” Clendenen said.
The novel coronavirus has led to a 23% increase in hotline calls for the ChildHelp hotline from March 2019 to March 2020. The national text responses have increased by 263%.
“A lot of kids have accessed text and chat boxes to talk through emotional issues,” Young said. “There is a greater digital volume.”
Many kids don’t feel comfortable calling hotlines with their parents in the same house, so texting has become one of the best resources kids can use. Hotlines are not only providing 911 emergency help, but they’re also providing plenty of emotional support.
“Child abuse survivors are also calling because of bad memories and emotional stress,” Young said.
Although self- isolation is recommended and necessary to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, many child abuse survivors are at risk of becoming victims once again. With many states following social distancing orders, resources such as counseling and group meetings aren’t easily available.
“When survivors are forced to stay in the home or in close proximity to their abuser more frequently, an abuser can use any tool to exert control over their victim, including a national health concern such as COVID-19,” The National Domestic Violence Hotline website says.
Pao Cardenas, who is an abuse survivor, said that she empathizes with the children who are experiencing this, and she wishes the community would recognize that abuse victims need help.
Although understaffed, many hotlines, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotlines, have encouraged the continuance of contact and communication so they can keep aiding children.
Hotlines are receiving numerous calls regarding both physical and emotional abuse from kids who have good relationships with their parents. With the quarantine stress and the loss of jobs, parents have a higher probability to say hurtful words to their kids that can cause emotional scars.
In such circumstances, hotlines have had to communicate in many different ways according to the intensity of the situation. Young explained that they talk to the kids and help them understand their circumstances by finding ways to ease emotional tensions.
“We know that any external factors that add stress and financial strain can negatively impact survivors and create circumstances where their safety is further compromised,” The National Domestic Violence Hotline website reads.
Cardenas also desires to bring awareness to the prominence of abuse. With overcoming her own experiences, she tries to bring positivity and has advised others on how to prevent possible abusive relationships and situations.
“Be brave. There are people who do love and care about you,” Cardenas said. “Choose to get help, getting support is one of the most important things. And know that you are going to get through this.”
By Daniella Parra and Isabella Pinel