The Child Abuse Network, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Parent Child Center and Family and Children’s Services are using their collective voice to bring attention to April’s designation as National Child Abuse Prevention Month and urging the community to recognize and report, as well as take measures to prevent, child abuse and neglect.
In recognition of the month’s designation, pinwheels will be planted at Child Abuse Network, Family and Children’s Services, and the Parent Child Center representing the 3,075 children who are now on a path toward hope and healing after someone intervened on their behalf last year. Additionally, the community is invited to wear blue on Thursday, April 1 to bring attention to the issue of abuse and neglect. The ONE Gas building downtown will turn blue for the occasion as well.
“As we move into the month of April…we at the City of Tulsa want to do our part to encourage people to look out and reach out to those in need,” said Mayor GT Bynum. “You can be the person that can save a child’s life and we’re so thankful for the people that are willing to do that and the organizations that are doing such hard work on this front.”
The COVID Crisis
Last year, Tulsa County saw 3,075 child abuse and neglect cases – an 8% increase over 2019 despite early signs and concerns over the impact COVID might have on intervention efforts.
Calls to the state’s Child Abuse Hotline plunged by over 50% in the spring, but the severity of abuse contained within those reports increased dramatically. And last December a report by researchers from OSU Center for Health Sciences and OU-Tulsa School of Community Medicine found that 26% fewer criminal cases involving child abuse and neglect were filed last February through June compared to forecasted trends. However, case filings in the second half of 2020 offset the decline, ultimately leading to an overall increase for the year.
“During this past year of working, learning and living virtually, or in isolation, many of our communities youngest children have been at greater risk of physical, emotional and mental harm than at any other time in recent memory,” said Regina Moon, president and CEO of the Parent Child Center. “Think about it. When in any of our lifetimes has the population of children been at greater risk?”
The researchers concluded that the results point to a large discrepancy that during a time when risk factors for child abuse have increased due to COVID, actual case filings appeared to be decreasing, leading them to believe that less cases are being reported.
“The Child Abuse Network has been extremely concerned as ‘shelter-in-place’ orders were enacted and children at risk lost a connection to caring adults outside the home who could report suspected abuse,” said Child Abuse Network President and CEO Maura Guten. “Instead of being ‘safer at home,’ helpless children were trapped in an unsafe environment aggravated by the stress and economic instability inflicted by the pandemic. All indicators show the pandemic has led to a child abuse epidemic.”
The Child Abuse Network, CASA, Family and Children’s Services and Parent Child Center of Tulsa all provide resources and services that help with the prevention, intervention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. As the country began shutting down a little over a year ago, the Tulsa Area United Way and these four agencies, in collaboration with Propeller Communications, Scrambler Creative and BARN3S, launched the LookOutReachOut.net website providing resources to help recognize, report and prevent child abuse and neglect especially during the challenges presented by COVID.
“The sad and terrible trauma of this pandemic year has brought a renewed clarity and urgency to all of our missions, I think,” said Moon. “The important and meaningful work we’ve all been able to do with families, caregivers and children has only been possible because of our wonderful donors and, sadly, the end is not in sight. We’ll continue to need strong supporters by our side as what has happened to our children becomes fully evident in the coming months and weeks.”
The site includes tips for prevention like urging families to take a break and reach out if they feel overwhelmed before something happens.
“If you are feeling overwhelmed, we encourage you to reach out to those in your support system for help, those who you have identified in advance,” said Moon. “Economic stress, virtual learning, sheltering in place, COVID 19, all have contributed to a significant need for additional support and resources. The Parent Child Center of Tulsa offers the Parents as Teachers home visiting program for free to parents in Tulsa and surrounding communities to help through this challenging time! Visit our website parentchildcenter.org to learn more.”
Additionally, it includes links to the COPES Crisis and Emotional Support hotline managed by Family and Children’s Services.
“This is a critical time in the lives of families and it’s important to know there is hope and help for those experiencing trauma, abuse, neglect or separation from loved ones,” said Christine Marsh, chief program officer, Child Abuse and Trauma Services, Family & Children’s Services. “Family and Children’s Services provides evidence-based therapy services designed to address the struggles families face. Services are immediately available and provided through telehealth and limited face-to-face opportunities.”
But ultimately, the site is a reminder to the community on recognizing and reporting suspicions of abuse and neglect.
“Be aware of the children you interact with, said Elizabeth Fisher, CASA president and CEO.
“Look out for sudden changes of behavior, unexplained injuries in different stages of healing, malnourishment, children who appear scared of a particular adult, or children who don’t want to go home.”
Calling the Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-522-3511, allows the appropriate authorities to open an investigation, gather facts and protect the child if they’re being harmed in any way – that includes physical or sexual abuse as well as inadequate food, shelter, or supervision. More than half of all child abuse cases are reported by teachers who see and interact with these children almost daily. Without their daily presence, underreporting could lead to fatalities. Additionally, homes with a history of domestic violence are at greater risk of child abuse. Calling the hotline allows those who may be in danger a chance to be seen.
The Child Abuse Network began as a project in 1986 with the Junior League of Tulsa before becoming an official organization in 1988. It provides collaborative services to Tulsa County’s most vulnerable children who are involved in a child abuse investigation or an assessment. For these children, CAN is a safe place to come, be heard and be helped. In fiscal year, 2019, CAN provided services for nearly 1,600 children. Last year, there were 2,685 substantiated child abuse cases in Tulsa County.
ABOUT FAMILY & CHILDREN’S SERVICES
Family & Children’s Services (F&CS), the largest behavioral health nonprofit organization in Oklahoma, works to heal hurting and abused children, strengthen families, and provide hope and path to recovery for those dealing with serious mental illness and addiction. For nearly a century, F&CS has been the place to turn for help with problems that seem too overwhelming to handle alone. Programs are offered through a network of nine convenient office locations and co-locations with numerous community partners throughout the Tulsa metro area. F&CS serves more than one in six Tulsans year. F&CS gives Tulsans hope, and in the process, make our community a better place for all.
The Parent Child Center serves children ages birth to 12 years, with distinctive expertise in trauma treatment for infants and toddler’s ages birth to 3 years. Strengthening families to prevent child abuse and neglect through education, treatment and advocacy. Our vision is that every parent has the knowledge and skills to protect and nurture their child.
Tulsa CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Inc., as authorized by Oklahoma law, is organized to speak for the best interest of abused and neglected children in court. We promote and support volunteer representation for children in an effort to provide each child a safe, permanent, nurturing home.