April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and experts say ongoing inflation, economic challenges and poverty can place stress on families and increase the risk of child abuse and neglect.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of child abuse and neglect are five times higher for children in families with low socioeconomic status.
Kate Flack – CEO of the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network – explained that parents may turn to substance use or other unhealthy coping mechanisms, to deal with mounting financial pressures, which could put kids in unsafe situations.
“If parents are having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, there’s less eyes on kids,” said Flack. “There’s less supportive supervision. So kids are more at risk of being preyed upon.”
Flack also pointed to the rise in internet-facilitated crime against children since the pandemic, and said kids who are allowed to use social media unsupervised are at higher risk for exploitation.
Suspected cases of child abuse in West Virginia can be reported to the state’s Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-352-6513 – seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Flack said that currently, 21 local Child Advocacy Centers across the state help coordinate the response to child-abuse allegations – by streamlining communication with prosecuting attorneys, law enforcement, child protective services and medical providers.
“In the last year, our child advocacy centers served 4,703 new children,” said Flack. “And in West Virginia, the state population is around 40,000, so we are seeing a huge portion of the kids that live in West Virginia.”
She said Child Advocacy Centers, or CACs, help kids feel safe and work to address their trauma with wraparound services.
“The places that the kids go to in CACs are child friendly,” said Flack. “They’re like a pediatrician’s office, with murals on the walls and paintings and stickers and stuffed animals. And so it’s a very friendly place for kids to just feel at ease, and to feel believed.”
At least 1 in 7 children experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year in the U.S. alone – and
according to Save the Children, one billion children worldwide experience physical, sexual or emotional violence or neglect each year.