Hope of South Texas Inc., a child advocacy center, is asking community members to be more aware of the children around them who might be targets of child abuse since COVID-19 has forced them into their homes.

“Generally, reports come from medical providers, teachers, law enforcement, friends and relatives, and the dynamics have shifted in the way the community is operating,” said Megan Burow, executive director of Hope of South Texas. “Kids may be stuck at home behind closed doors, and we are not aware of a bad situation. We ask people to pay extra attention in these circumstances.”

Burow said in a news release that the number of calls being received by the state child abuse reporting hotline is down in recent weeks because children are more isolated in their homes.

“We know the issue of child abuse has not gone away. In fact, the problem may be increasing because of added stress on families, but without the watchful eyes of educators on children every day, the needs of some children may be missed,” Burow said. “We are hoping that members of the community will fill those gaps.”

In 2019, statewide, more than 15% of the almost half-million calls to the Child Abuse Hotline came from school personnel. Parents and other relatives made up 14.6% of the callers.

Throughout 2019, the Hope Child Advocacy Center conducted interviews and provided counseling services for 492 children in the four-county service region of Victoria, Goliad, DeWitt and Jackson counties.

“We know the closing of schools was not a decision that was made lightly. The health of children and staff was and is the top priority,” Burow said.

Hope of South Texas made the difficult decision in mid-March to stop conducting counseling sessions for children in person. The sessions moved to a virtual platform.

“We, like teachers, are still making regular contact with our children, but it is just not quite the same as seeing them in person,” Burow said. “We worry about the most vulnerable children in our community who may not have a safe and secure home environment. We know that some children rely on school as a reprieve from what is going on at home.”

April is child abuse awareness month, and typically the community rallies together to bring attention to the important issue of child abuse, she continued. Under the new circumstances, sharing the message however possible is important.

“Just don’t use your child as an outlet for your stress or anger,” she said. “Children are a precious gift and no matter what is happening in the world, every child deserves to live a life free from the threat of violence. As a community, we all need to work together to make that happen.”

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Elena Anita Watts covers arts, culture and entertainment for the Victoria Advocate.

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