GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As children across west Michigan are required to stay home during the Coronavirus pandemic, experts believe this widespread self isolation is opportunity for more cases of child abuse and neglect.
Since quarantine began in Michigan on March 24 an average of three to four cases per day have been reported in Kent County since the Stay Home, Stay Safe order was issued in Michigan on March 24, according to the Children's Advocacy Center of Kent County.
"I think collectively we along with our law enforcement partners are anticipating a gigantic upswing later in the summer, or in the fall when kids get back around other adults," said Melissa Werkman, Executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center of Kent County.
Werkman says offenders are likely to take this opportunity of isolation to find control, through child abuse. For kids, this can increase periods of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and a decrease in physical and mental health.
"Children very often are concerned that they won't be believed. They may be surrounded with shame, so it's not a typical for children not to disclose abuse right away because they're fearful or anxious or they think nobody's going to believe them," said Werkman. "They really have to identify an adult that they trust to tell, which is the root of our concern. If they're around or not likely to be around adults who they identify with that they can give this information to safely, they are likely not to disclose right away."
Teachers are usually a child's safe haven according to Werkman. Teachers are also mandated reporters, which is why this time spent outside of the physical classroom is so concerning.
Werkman says teachers should be keeping this in mine when they spend time with their students in the virtual classroom. Teachers should be looking out for any behavior or physical changes in their appearance.
"It's not their job to make a judgment on whether or not abuse has actually happened, but just simply report a suspicion," said Werkman. "There are professionals on the other end that will work really hard to make that determination."
Parents should also be monitoring their child while they spend more time online for virtual schooling and free time during quarantine.
"It's really tricky right now with virtual learning as kids need to have access to technology, but just to continue to monitor that use in your home. Ensure that location services are shut off and messaging services are turned off on devices your kids are using. Really encourage them to come to you as a parent if they have been around somebody that has made them uncomfortable or touch them in an inappropriate way," said Werkman. "Let them know that if they feel like somebody has hurt them or touch them inappropriately. That they can come to you and you will believe them as a parent and you will take action."
The Children's Advocacy Center of Kent County had to cancel their only fundraising event of the year, which brings in 40% of the funds for the year.
The organization is now hosting the fundraiser online and encourages anyone to participate and donate if they are able.
The fundraiser is Tuesday, May 5 at noon. To join the fundraiser, click here.
For more information on the Children's Advocacy Center of Kent County, click here.