HANNIBAL | Shandi Joubert-Kanz, supervisor at the Child Center in Hannibal, is putting out an urgent call for people who suspect a child is being abused to say something.
The Child Center is a United Way partner agency that works to help children,who are victims of abuse and neglect, to heal from the trauma. The organization will benefit from United Way's 2020-21 BE A HERO Campaign.
Joubert-Kanz reported the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant drop in child abuse reports, primarily because families have been forced to stay home, children have not been able to participate in normal activities.
“The hotline numbers have gone down drastically, we wereatmorethana50%drop over the last few months, and we know abuse is still happening, but fewer people are reporting,” Joubert-Kanz said.
Families, she said, have experienced new levels of stress, faced uncertainty and been locked down together. Although many families have used the lockdown to get close, some children are trapped in an environment where they are not safe.
Hotline calls are typically made by a teacher, counselor r coach at school after the child comes to them for help, or they learn about things the child is experiencing.
In normal times, staff from the Child Center would go into schools to teach children the importance of body safety for themselves and others, and how to deal with tough topics like sexting and bullying.
“We teach kids that it's not okay for anyone to look at or touch the private parts of their body and what to do if someone breaks their body safety rule,” Joubert-Kanz said.
Often after their teaching programs,children feel more comfortable telling their teachers, coaches, or other safe individuals that they are being abused, and the Child Center can assist.
However, school interviews have been on hold since March because of COVID-19closingsandthe cancellation of activities. Jourbert-Kanz says children have been unable to connect to their teachers, counselors, coaches, principals, and other safe people if they need help.
That is why Joubert-Kanz encourages people step up and be a hero if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected by calling the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-392-3738.
Callers can remain anonymous. Investigators need some basis information – name of the child, age, address or school, and a reason for the call.
When a report of child abuse is made, and it is deemed an investigation is needed, the Child Center steps in and uses resources including a trained forensic interviewer and team support from law enforcement, children's division, the juvenile office, the prosecuting attorney's office and others.
Investigators can determine whether children need to be placed in foster care. They can assist families by connecting to community resources, or determine whether criminal charges should be filed.
Joubert-Kanz says child abuse continues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our goal is that those kids who experience maltreatment, or they witness something, or experience that type of trauma, they at least have a safe space with safe people that they can talk about things with,” says Joubert-Kanz. “Our advocate can spend anywhere from 8 to 20 hours with one family and the United Way gives us the opportunity to be able to do that, without that funding we would still provide the service because our people are dedicated but it would go under-funded so it's really important and we're very thankful for that.”