child abuse

PREVENTION — The audience at last year's Prevent Child Abuse Conference tunes into the speakers. Due statewide restrictions against gatherings of more than 10, a physical conference will not be held this year, though education will be pushed out to the community via other means.

April is Prevent Child Abuse Month, and Family Service Association will be getting creative to raise awareness this year.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions prohibiting gatherings of more than 10, the nonprofit’s annual conference won’t be held as planned, and pinwheels – the symbol for child abuse awareness – won’t be distributed. Still, Barb Hilton, director of Prevent Child Abuse Howard County, hopes to raise awareness in alternative ways.

“We’re looking into some different ways that we might still share that education, and we’ve got some good, creative ideas to still reach everybody,” Hilton said.

While those plans are underway, Hilton gave a nod to the Prevent Child Abuse Council that works year-round to disseminate information and resources. The council encompasses a range of professionals who sit on the council, board, and committees, and the council even has served as a model for other counties around Indiana, she said.

The council namely focuses on prevention education in an effort to stop child abuse before it ever starts.

Primary prevention, Hilton said, means the council works to reach out to everybody, while secondary prevention programs target at-risk people who may have other stressors in their lives that put them at a more significant risk to abuse a child. Tertiary programs, on the other hand, target people who already have had a history of child abuse.

“So we focus on, number one, hoping it will reduce numbers for the secondary and tertiary, but we try to reach everybody through primary prevention,” Hilton said.

Hilton called today’s climate, with schools closed and many parents out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the “perfect storm” for child abuse.

“This type of environment that we have right now is a perfect storm for bad things to happen. We have children who are now isolated at home with parents who may have financial trouble. They may have food insecurity, and then we’re asking for social distancing,” she said. “It makes people feel less connected, and we’re really concerned about reaching out to those parents in the home and alone with their kids.”

Having children out of school, too, she said, reduces the chances children have to report child abuse to other adults.

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During these times, Hilton encouraged the community to check on their neighbors by a phone call or FaceTime. Taking a break and seeing another person, even virtually, can give stressed parents a much-needed break, she said.

Hotlines also are available for parents seeking support. They can call 1-800-CHILDREN or dial 211 to be directed to a professional 24/7.

The current environment also increase chances for domestic violence, and when domestic violence is witnessed by children, it is considered child abuse.

FSA already has seen an increase in referrals to its non-violence education group, but the services are suspended until further notice because of COVID-19 restrictions. Still, FSA has resources available.

“We want people to know that we are (here to) help. The Domestic Violence Shelter is operational at this time, while following CDC and the governor’s executive orders,” said Tracy Martino, executive director of FSA.

Those in abusive situations are encouraged to call 911 in the event of emergencies, or they can call the Domestic Violence Shelter’s hotline at 1-877-482-4222 in non-emergency situations.

In Howard County, which closely mirrors the state, around 75 percent of child abuse cases are neglect cases. Hilton said that has been the norm “for a long time.” Other types of child abuse are physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse, though Hilton said emotional abuse is often hard to document.

If anyone suspects child abuse or neglect, the report number is 1-800-800-5556.

Hilton encouraged the community to visit “FSA Prevent Child Abuse” on Facebook for up-to-date information on awareness events or activities that may take place in April as well as community resources.