April - Child Abuse Prevention Month

Reports of Child Abuse Are Down – No Cause to Celebrate
Posted on 04/23/2020
Reports of Child Abuse Are Down – No Cause to CelebrateGov. Bill Lee and Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jennifer Nichols kicked off National Child Abuse Prevention with a reminder of every citizen’s role in reporting suspected abuse.

“It is more important than ever to increase awareness that all Tennesseans are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect. During this unprecedented time, everyone is not necessarily safer at home,” Nichols said in an early April press release. COVID-19 and school closures have the potential to increase stress and keep abuse behind closed doors, they cautioned.

Turns out, that caution was prophetic.

Amber Whitten, LMSW, director of the Weakley/Obion County Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, says that in the weeks since schools closed, they have had no new cases and the state is reporting a 30% decrease in reported cases.

“That’s not a cause for celebration,” she noted. “In fact, it’s pretty scary. When school was cancelled for good, it was a somber moment for me because that sealed the deal – I knew these kids are trapped at home with their abusers.”

In the initial press release, Gov. Lee observed another “collateral side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is domestic abuse, particularly child abuse.” The release also noted that typically teachers, childcare workers and medical professionals are the primary sources for reporting potential neglect or abuse.

“With families staying home to due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and schools and childcare centers closed, there are fewer eyes on this vulnerable population,” Commissioner Nichols added.

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services defines child abuse and neglect as:
• Physical abuse: Non-accidental trauma or physical injury of a child, or failure to protect a child from harm.
• Neglect: Failure to provide for a child's physical survival needs to the extent that there is harm, or risk of harm, to the child's health or safety.
• Sexual abuse: When a child is involved in intentional sexual acts that produce sexual arousal and/or gratification for the perpetrator or sexual behaviors/situations in which there is a sexual component.
• Psychological harm: A repeated pattern of caregiver behavior or extreme incident(s) that convey to children they are worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered. May include both abusive acts against a child and failure to act.

Lorna Benson, Weakley County Schools Safe Schools Coordinator, points out Weakley Countians who suspect or have observed abuse have a great resource in the Carl Perkins Center.

“Among other services, they have a 24-hour hotline (1-800-273-4747) for those who may be in danger of child abuse, offer child safety and abuse prevention education and provides The Relative Caregivers Program which offers support for non-custodial family caregivers,” she said.

The Carl Perkins Center utilizes resources from Darkness to Light, a child sexual abuse prevention organization, for awareness and training. They offer a free online course called “Protecting Children During a Crisis” at their website d2l.org. The foundation of their work is based on The 5 Steps to Protecting Children™:
Step 1: Learn the Facts
If we don’t understand child sexual abuse, we can’t end it. It is highly likely that you know a child who has been or is being abused.
Step 2: Minimize Opportunity
Safe environments can help reduce the risk for abuse. More than 80% of sexual abuse cases occur in isolated, one-on-one situations.
Step 3: Talk About It
Talking openly breaks down barriers and reduces stigma. By talking openly about our bodies, sex, & boundaries we can encourage children to share.
Step 4: Recognize the Signs
Signs of abuse aren’t always obvious, but they are often there. Emotional or behavioral changes are often the most common signs.
Step 5: React Responsibly
It’s our responsibility to react appropriately to suspicion, disclosure, or discovery of abuse. Only 4% to 8% of reports of all sexual abuse are false.

Neighbors, friends, family, and parents can also call the Tennessee Child Abuse Hotline (1-877-237-0004) to make reports. Citizens can also report child abuse online at https://apps.tn.gov/carat/ or on the MyTN app.