Child Abuse Risk Escalates During Times of High Stress, KIDS Center Plans for Surge in Cases

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The risk for child abuse is at an unprecedented high. Children are at increased risk for abuse due to the emotional and financial stress this pandemic is placing on families. At a time when emergency rooms are seeing more severe cases of child abuse, the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) has reported that calls to the child abuse hotline have dropped by 70 percent since the closure of schools…largely due to the fact that children no longer have daily interaction with teachers and school personnel. It is only a matter of time until the real impact to children becomes known and abuse reports skyrocket.

While we are scheduling only urgent cases at this time, we are preparing to broaden our scope, adding non-emergency evaluations to our schedule, in alignment with the phased reopening in Deschutes County.  Additionally, we are still providing support to help families dealing with increased stressors as well as mental health services to facilitate their healing from abuse.

Isolation and lack of contact with mandatory reporters such as school personnel and childcare workers can lead to dangerous situations for vulnerable children. While KIDS Center remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide critical intervention, therapy and community services to children and families affected by child abuse and neglect, Central Oregon’s only child abuse intervention center expects a surge of referrals for specialized child abuse evaluation services once normal operations resume. 

“We are doing everything we can to keep all staff on at KIDS Center while we remain open to serve the children and youth of our community,” said Gil Levy, executive director of KIDS Center. “We are going to see a surge of referrals — possibly an all-time high number of child abuse referrals — come to KIDS Center as social distancing mandates begin to be lifted, and we need to be fully staffed to adequately serve the children and youth of Central Oregon who walk through the door of KIDS Center.”

Insurance reimbursements, one source of revenue that funds essential direct services like medical examinations, forensic interviews, individual and family therapy and family support services, have decreased significantly as KIDS Center has followed mandates to only see emergency cases. KIDS Center has been able to keep all current staff on but has been forced to place on hold the hiring of a vital, vacant forensic interviewer position. 

“The need for mental health therapies is also escalating during this crisis. Our therapists are working in new ways, using “teletherapy” and video conferencing, which allows families to access therapy while keeping everybody at safe social distances,” said Levy. “We are looking at ways to increase therapy resources for children, youth and families affected by child abuse in the near future, in addition to funding the vacant forensic interviewer position — if we are able to obtain, or raise via donations — the critical funding necessary.”

Anyone with a concern about a child’s safety can call the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline at 1-855-503-SAFE (7233).

KidsCenter.org • 541-383-5958

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