Every 90 seconds there is a report of abuse, neglect or family violence. This figure is about to get even worse.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, these children were already vulnerable, but many had other safety measures in place. They had respite from the family conflict and chaos in their home environments – they had people and places that helped ensure their safety. They had alternate templates of behaviour and relationships that helped them make sense of themselves and the world.
It is clear that in the current crisis that our children need us more than ever. The added layers of family stress, isolation and disengagement, uncertain employment and financial futures, coupled with pre-existing issues, all place these children at additional risk. The safety net of community, extended family networks, childcare, kindergarten and school have shrunk and are likely to diminish further over the coming weeks and months.
Services once in place to help ensure the safety of our most vulnerable are finding it more difficult to see the child within the private lives of families, meaning assessments of risk and harm are almost impossible to make. Other services designed to wrap around and support vulnerable families have scaled back or closed, no longer able to bolster families needing support to get by under ordinary circumstances.
Some of the infection control measures may additionally make women more vulnerable and increase their protection risks. Stigma and discrimination related to COVID-19 may make children more vulnerable to violence and psychosocial distress within their families or community.
Children and families already under financial pressure may have increased difficulty receiving material or financial supports due to the strain on welfare systems. Families may lack the capacity to purchase everyday low cost items, including basic food and hygiene needs, due to the surge in demand and the inability to shop and stock up when they can afford to. Children and families living in over-crowded environments without access to fresh air and safe activity are particularly at risk.
During times of crisis and trauma, and despite the best efforts of caring and attuned adults, children are the ones who suffer most as they lack the maturity to make sense of what is happening.
Vulnerable children suffer most of all.
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