[Column written by Debi Ray-Rivers]
In celebration of the third week of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we wish to thank all the parents in our community!
As a parent with grown children, I applaud what parents are going through during this Coronavirus crisis: balancing work commitments [if you are still employed], staying positive if you have lost your job, juggling with helping your child/children with school work, giving time to your spouse/partner, keeping up with house chores, and making time for yourself.
We know these are very challenging times, and we want to take this opportunity to say thank you for all that you are doing and continue to do for your family!
Mental health is being challenged in this pandemic, and children need extra support. Research shows that 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older or more powerful children and one in five children are groomed online.
Now imagine a child experiencing abuse in either of these two ways whilst witnessing substantiated anxiety from a parent due to this lockdown. The child may not disclose the abuse as children naturally want to protect their parents and caregivers. They may feel that by exposing the secret they will cause the parent more anxiety. We encourage adults in our community to check on the children in their lives, especially those that you already had concerns about.
Educators may be the single most important group in the prevention and recognition of child sexual abuse. School is the one social institution outside the family with which nearly all children have consistent ongoing contact. Children who disclose abuse often tell their teacher, guidance counsellor, or some other trusted school staff. According to child protection leaders in the U.S., reports of abuse, during this period of “shelter in place” have dropped between 20 – 50% and this is a real concern to those in the field of child protection.
How can we find out about children’s emotional health and how can we check in with them as educators and caring family members? One of the recommendations is the use of an app called the Mood Meter. This is an app which is being used in schools around the U.S. to help children describe their emotions and how they feel.
Another suggestion which we share in our SCARS child sexual abuse prevention training is for children to have a code word/safe word that a child can say to a safe adult if they are in danger.
We also recommend parents, educators, grandparents, and family members to suggest to children to journal their fears, activities, and experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. This provides an outlet that helps children to release some of their feelings [revealing can be healing]. By journaling, it is also something they can keep and look back on in 20 years as living history.
SCARS looks forward to commencing our interactive training soon. Our prayer and hope is that the cases of COVID 19 will greatly decrease so that the risk is low and our country can resume to normal, our children can come out of isolation and return to playing outside, in-school learning, participating in their hobbies [sports, music, dance etc.], and interact with their peers.
For more resources and information, please visit our SCARS website at scarsbermuda.com or call us at 297-2277.
To report abuse please call: Child & Family Services at 332-0091 or 335-9095 or The Bermuda Police Service at 295-0011 or 247-1744
– Debi Ray-Rivers, Founder & Executive Director of SCARS