As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to deeply impact people’s lives, one concern that may fly under the radar is child abuse.
The Chinook Sexual Assault Centre is championing a campaign to bring awareness to the welfare of children as October is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The centre says it’s noticed a significant increase in child abuse calls this year.
“Certainly, what we’ve seen is a 50 per cent increase, or just over a 50 per cent increase in crisis calls in this fiscal year compared to last year, and that of course was all during the pandemic, from April to the end of September,” said Kristine Cassie, the CEO of the Chinook Sexual Assault Centre in Lethbridge.
Support centres in Lethbridge say stress factors from the pandemic and increased isolation with people spending more time at home can be contributing risk factors, however, they note these reasons do not justify child abuse.
“So, a lot of times we don’t know what’s going on in these homes, because the school was an important piece that would pick up on some of these signs,” said Greg Schmidt, the executive director of the Family Ties centre in Lethbridge.
“Even in our work, if we’re doing all of these things remotely, we’re not in the home observing what’s going on,” he added.
With services resorting to providing help over the phone or online, support workers feel their ability to help is constrained.
Lethbridge police said they are not seeing an increase in reports, although they are seeing a rise in the severity of violence.
“We have seen the violence in those calls we’re dealing with go up significantly, so there’s concern over that obviously, and having to respond to people in different ways during the pandemic has called for some ingenuity,” said Catherine Pooley, the acting program manager of victim services for the Lethbridge Police Service.
Police also said one of the reasons they’re not seeing a rise in calls but child advocacy groups are, is because some people may be hesitant about getting officers involved. However, LPS said it is important for them to continue to work with child advocacy groups in order to take the appropriate preventative measures.
“The key is for the child advocacy centres, the policing agencies, child family services and all the other stakeholders and partners involved in this community, to get together and to work together to help prevent abuse,” said Insp. Jason Walper, who works for the criminal investigation division with the Lethbridge Police Service.
On Saturday, child advocacy centres across Alberta are encouraging everyone to wear blue in solidarity with all those who have been impacted by child abuse. Advocates hope this will help spark more conversation and awareness.
The number for the child abuse hotline is 1.800.387.5437. The number for the kids help line is 1.800.668.6868.