2020 has been filled with many unforeseen and unpredictable challenges, many of which have not changed in 2021. Rising unemployment, school closures, stay at home orders, social isolation, financial strain, food insecurity, and many more struggles have affected millions of children and their families. These stressors all contribute to an increase in stress which unfortunately increases risk of family violence including intimate partner violence and child abuse, especially among families where violence in the home was present even before the pandemic. The negative role stress plays on the quality of parenting is well studied, specifically in literature on child maltreatment. One example is the family stress model (Conger & Elder, 1994) which theorizes that an increase in stress which is often multifactorial increases risk for mistreatment of children.
Job loss also comes with a cascade of new stressors including: decreased income, loss of health insurance, decreased social interaction, loss of purpose, and potentially adoption of unhealthy coping methods like alcohol or substance use which are additional factors that increase risk of violence. Child maltreatment is a significant concern because of the negative effects it can have on a child throughout their lifetime mentally, physically, emotionally and behaviorally.
One of the best strategies to help children is to be proactive with their caregivers who are at risk or are actively struggling. Common reasons caregivers engage in violence is: untreated mental health problems, lack of effective coping strategies, and lack of support. There is help available. Particularly from educators, school psychologists, social workers, primary care physicians, mental health providers, etc.
It is important to view COVID-19 and its impact on families through a trauma focused lens. This will help immensely with understanding the cumulative effect the virus has had on children and families and also sheds light on potential interventions and treatments.
The House also recently passed a child abuse prevention bill as a response to experts and advocates raising concern about unreported abuse occurring during the coronavirus pandemic. The Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act cleared the House by 345-73, and is meant to better address child welfare in the United States.
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