The coronavirus pandemic has trapped many people in their homes for fear of catching the virus or spreading it to others. For some, home is a safe haven. But for others, it is a place where they are subject to abuse.
Fayetteville’s Child Advocacy Center has seen an increase in child abuse cases during the pandemic over last year, according to Roberta Humphries, executive director of the agency.
“So we did see a 20% increase in the number of cases,” Humphries said. “Our fiscal year ended in June ’20. And so from fiscal year ’19-’20, we had a 20% increase in the number of children that we actually saw for allegations of abuse. We definitely saw an increase in the number of allegations of physical abuse cases that came to the center, and we continue to see an increase in the numbers from the numbers that we would have served. And again, those numbers were up with the number of referrals that we received this year versus last year at the same timeframe.”
From July to September 2019, the center had 174 reports of child abuse; 67 reports of physical abuse; 100 reports of sexual abuse; 50 reports of neglect; 11 witness-to-violence reports; 10 reports of drug endangerment; and one homicide survivor.
From July to September 2020, the agency had 240 reports of child abuse; 120 reports of physical abuse; 117 reports of sexual abuse; 70 neglect allegations; 19 witness-to-violence reports; 12 reports of drug endangerment; four sex trafficking reports; three child pornography reports; and six homicide survivors.
The Child Advocacy Center provides services to child victims of physical and sexual abuse who have been hurt and referred to the agency by either law enforcement agencies or the Cumberland County Department of Social Services, Humphries said.
One of those services is a forensic interview.
“The forensic interview is a structured conversation to allow the child to talk about what’s happening to them in a nonthreatening environment that is legally defensible,” Humphries said. “Then we also provide victim advocacy services to the child and the non-offending family members, we provide counseling services for child victims of abuse and we also provide professional continuing education for people who are working in the field and also child abuse prevention education to the community at large.”
The child abuse prevention education is covered by a program called Darkness to Lights Towards Children, which teaches people about child sexual abuse, how to better protect children, and how organizations can put appropriate policies in place to protect children, according to Humphries.
Even though the pandemic ceased access to a lot of programs and agencies, the Child Advocacy Center never closed.
“We just put in extra precautionary measures so that we could continue to serve children who were victimized,” Humphries said. “We had to enhance our cleaning techniques, we had to limit the number of people that were on site at any one time. And that primarily involved limiting it to the caregiver and the child that was coming for services. So we had to put different policies in place so that we could remain open throughout COVID, because the cases never stopped.”
According to Humphries, the major impact from COVID-19 was that her agency needed to increase its ability to provide counseling because it was seeing more children and providing services using online platforms.
In November, the center will hold its 19 Days of Prevention campaign to raise awareness of all issues related to child abuse — from children being conscripted as child soldiers to trafficking of children.
“In the first 19 days, we primarily focus on child body safety classes, so normally we would go out and provide instruction to about 1,500 to 2,000 children in, like, preschools and daycares and things like that. Well, obviously we’re not able to do that in person this year,” Humphries said. “So what we’ve done is we’ve put together 2,000 backpacks full of resource materials information not only for the child but also information for the parent on dealing with stress, appropriate discipline, referral information if they have needs within the community.”
Those backpacks have been provided to all Head Start programs and Fort Bragg child development centers, she said.
And the center is contacting other child development centers in Cumberland County to make those bags available.
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Staff writer Akira Kyles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.