From USA Today, June 15, 2021:
Senate considers broad child abuse protection bill
by Desireé Williams
WASHINGTON: Christina J. Allen has never seen so many families fleeing domestic violence. Allen, executive director of the FamilyTime Crisis and Counseling Center in Humble, Texas, said many women and children seeking help during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic had to be turned away because there simply weren’t enough beds at the shelter.
Allen is among many domestic abuse relief workers keeping a close eye on a growing debate in Congress over whether to beef up child abuse prevention measures, including by providing $270 million to local shelters like hers.
The proposal, passed by the House in March and up for debate in the Senate, aims to shield millions of children from violence as families hit hard by joblessness and other pandemicdriven stresses are seeing a surge in abuse cases. The bill seeks to provide more education about child abuse and how to detect it, fund community programs that address substance abuse disorders, and support tribal and immigrant communities, which are disproportionately vulnerable to poverty.
Sens. Patty Murray, D-Washington and Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, are working to get the bill passed after the Senate declined last year to advance the measure.
“It’s essential that we acknowledge and understand the scope of child abuse and neglect during and after the pandemic and do everything we can to better protect our nation’s children. There is no greater responsibility we have to the next generation than keeping them safe,” Burr said in a statement.
Murray urged senators to support the bill. “This bipartisan bill is a critical and necessary step in our effort to keep every child safe and strengthen our child protective services system,” she said in a statement.
This bill was advanced unanimously Thursday by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee.
Experts said the coronavirus pandemic left more families at home together for long periods at a time of economic loss and overall anxiety, creating a breeding ground for child abuse across the nation. Many children who once found an escape from abusive caretakers at schools and youth programs were cut off from those safe spaces. Social pressure, poverty and mental health struggles are all factors that can drive child abuse.
During the pandemic, hospitals saw a decline in child abuse-related emergency room visits but an increase in child abuse-related injuries, including head trauma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Calls reporting abuse to the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, a nonprofit organization based in Arizona dedicated to preventing and treating abuse, grew last year by nearly 14%. At one point, children began texting the hotline begging for help.
“We saw kids trapped at home with abusers,” said Daphne Young, chief communications officer at Childhelp.
Young said that once children return to school and school officials once again begin investigating bruises and scars and hear stories of what happened during quarantine, “we may see another pandemic: a pandemic of abuse.”