• March 7, 2021

CATES: Abuse and neglect with pandemics - Odessa American: Health

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CATES: Abuse and neglect with pandemics

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Posted: Monday, February 22, 2021 5:30 am

One of the things I have been seeing in the healthcare literature lately is the concerns that with all the lockdowns, virtual schools, and other isolating circumstances related to the pandemic, the violence that we see far too often in our society, things like child abuse, elder abuse, and human trafficking are not being reported as they normally are, and because of that, those abuses are not being caught until often it is too late.

We talk a great deal about the damage that COVID-19 does in and of itself. The deaths, the severe illness, the toll on healthcare workers and affected families.

We even talk about collateral damage to an extent with the economy and the layers of devastation that has caused. But one thing I don’t think we talk about enough is how disasters increase abuse and neglect. We don’t talk about how with the stress and isolation of the pandemic, there aren’t many second chances to intervene with victims of abuse before a life is lost or destroyed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between March of 2020 and September of 2020, child abuse reporting decreased by 20 percent-70 percent, depending on the state compared with 2019 reporting statistics.

In that same timeframe, hospitalizations related to child abuse increased from 2.1 percent of the total number of Emergency Department visits to 3.2 percent of overall Emergency Department visits.

That increase leads experts to the conclusion that overall abuse has increased rather than decreased, it is just not being reported until it is severe enough that hospitalization is needed. The experts believe this is because kids are not being seen frequently by teachers, social workers, healthcare providers and other professionals that have mandatory reporting requirements.

Some of those increases could be related to changing patterns in seeking medical care, again, related to the pandemic, but the vast majority of the issue is lack of contact with professionals who are trained to spot signs of abuse and are required to report their concerns to state and/or local authorities.

The same concerns are being experienced with elder abuse. The stress and isolation of the pandemic has resulted in an increase in abuse that is vastly underreported. To add to the problem, the pandemic is being used by unscrupulous people to prey on the elderly as well. There have been reports of threats to hand over Social Security checks or they will get purposefully exposed to COVID, or threats of COVID as a reason for people to stay in harmful situations.

Human trafficking, another avenue of abuse and violence, also thrives in the isolation of disasters and pandemics. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states they have grave concerns that COVID-19 has made identifying victims of human trafficking more difficult because of less frequent contact with victims related to lockdowns and social distancing, as well as more movement control tactics by the perpetrators in order to avoid detection with quarantines, lockdowns and increased border restrictions.

The ways all of us can help is when we are out and about to keep our eyes open for signs of abuse.

Texas Protects asks adults in their interactions with children to pay attention if a child tells you in a call or in writing that they are being abused or someone in their home is being abused.

If they are frightened of an adult, if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts, if young children are left alone or are in charge of other siblings with no adults present for long periods of time, or young children talk about sex with more knowledge than is normal for their age.

Also pay attention to unexplained bruises or marks, harsh physical discipline, or dangerous objects like unsecured firearms.

With elder abuse, the signs are very similar. You may see financial irregularities with elder abuse as well.

Human trafficking victims also have similar signs of abuse, as well as avoidance of social interaction or authority figures, their responses often seem scripted, and they seem destitute.

You can get more information on all of these issues as well as report any concerns about someone being abused to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services at https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/ or you can call the Texas Abuse/Neglect hotline at 1-800-252-5400.

Odessa, TX

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