Kids can’t wait.
That is the sobering message from the Zebra Child Protection Centre in its new PSA.
The video, made in collaboration with Child Advocacy Centres of Alberta, reminds Albertans that for children at risk, home is not always a safe place.
The Zebra Child Protection Centre, which serves Edmonton and the surrounding area through advocacy and child abuse intervention said COVID-19 restrictions may be forcing more kids to suffer in silence.
The number of child abuse cases reported to the agency has gone down significantly.
From mid-March to mid-April, 31 per cent fewer cases have been reported to the Zebra Child Protection Centre, compared to the same time-frame in 2019.
“We’re very alarmed about that,” Cheryl Diebel, CEO of Zebra Child Protection Centre, said.
“Children no longer have their protective factors in place,” Diebel said. “Such as school, childcare facilities, the community, their extended family, neighbours,
“So these young ones aren’t necessarily seen by anybody, which creates a lot of worry and concern for us.”
Typically, teachers, daycare workers and coaches are the eyes and ears in the community and take notice of emotional, behavioural and or functional changes in a child.
They have a duty to report any suspected child abuse to the authorities, but home isolation has removed that critical contact.
Diebel said the added stress of a family staying at home or someone losing a job, is no doubt putting some children and youth in potentially dangerous situations.
“If there’s people within the public that know that a family is under stress, especially if families who were under stress even before the COVID-19, reach out to them,” Deibel said.
“We still believe child abuse is going on, it’s just not being reported,” Sgt. Maunel Illner with Edmonton Police Child Protection Section said.
Illner said 87 per cent of abused children know their abuser, so it’s important for others to “step up” and report any signs of suspected abuse to local police, RCMP or children’s services.
Illner said if given an opportunity, start a dialogue with children in your neighbourhood.
“Just be a listening ear,” Illner said. “Allow the child to speak to you and tell you what has happened.”
Over the past couple of years, the number of files submitted to the Zebra Child Protection Unit has spiked by about 30 per cent. Illner noted this is not an indication that child abuse has spiked, but rather the number of people now aware of the signs and reporting it.
“Unfortunately it seems like we’re just scratching the surface, but we try to help as much as we can and investigate any cases that do come to us.”
The Zebra Centre and other child advocacy centres are also working with community members who still have contact with kids to identify potential risks.
Information on child abuse and how to recognize some of the signs can be found here:
Diebel said if you are reaching out remotely, any contact could be enough to help a child.
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“Kids can’t wait. They can’t wait until the end of the COVID and they can’t wait until the end of isolation.”