As the world continues fighting COVID-19, many advocates and experts are growing concerned over the ways the pandemic has affected the lives and development of children. Abuse advocates are especially worried as persistent stay-at-home orders, increased stress, and social isolation are resulting in more dangerous situations for at-risk children.
While the best way to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19 is to stay at home as much as possible, for many children across the country, home is the most dangerous place they can be. Nearly 1 in 8 children in the United States is a drug endangered child, meaning they live with a parent who struggles with legal or illegal substance misuse. This statistic is even more troubling when you understand that parents or caregivers with substance misuse problems are less likely to be able to fully function in a parent role, which can result in one of the most common forms of maltreatment: neglect. Like other forms of maltreatment, identifying neglect has become increasingly difficult in the COVID-19 age as adults outside the home may not be able to notice neglect as quickly. This challenge ensures that children will be in neglectful situations longer, resulting in more serious long-term effects of child abuse.
These long-term effects of child abuse and neglect include:
Physical health issues like diabetes
Psychological health issues like attachment disorders and PTSD
Behavior issues and impulse control challenges
Increased likelihood of revictimization
While everyone is currently feeling more isolated from their friends and family than normal, children are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of social isolation. In addition to loneliness and behavioral challenges, children without proper social support networks are more at risk of being abused outside the home. As seen in numerous cases of clergy abuse, predatory priests targeted children whose parents were facing extreme difficulties including poverty, substance misuse, or other socially isolating hurdles. Now in the era of COVID-19 more and more families are finding it impossible to ensure their children have these protective social support systems in place. While long-term effects of COVID-19 social isolation will not be definitively known for decades, experts are certain that children who are already in vulnerable environments remain the most at risk.
Families are also facing unprecedented levels of stress as a result of the pandemic, which can intensify the long-term effects facing children even more. Nearly 8 in 10 adults say COVID-19 is a significant source of stress in their life. Plus, increased unemployment and financial stress resulting from the pandemic can be a huge trigger for child abuse as parents are unable to cope with their stress in a healthy way. For children in families struggling with substance misuse, unemployment, domestic violence, and general anxieties over the pandemic, normal stress levels can quickly become toxic stress. Toxic stress can change a child’s brain chemistry and result in lifelong physical and mental difficulties.
COVID-19 has exacerbated many problems in American society, which is why America’s most vulnerable are likely to pay the biggest price during the on-going fight against the pandemic. Without traditional access to support services, it's especially important that children and those with access to children are able to find the right aid organizations and advocacy groups that can help protect them during this time of national uncertainty.
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