April was National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the annual observance in the U.S. since 1983 for raising awareness of one of the world’s worst problems.

The World Health Organization defines child abuse and child maltreatment as “all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.”

Due to Covid-19, Child Abuse Prevention Month featured virtual events to raise awareness and impact positive change this year.

Using social media, Floridians are encouraged to share posts using the hashtags #GreatChildhoods and #CAPMonth.

The Florida Department of Children and Families contracts with 19 agencies to provide child welfare to Florida’s children. Community Partnership for Children is the agency handling Volusia, Flagler and Putnam counties. Under the community-based care initiative, child protective services are contracted to local providers and directed by the lead agency and a community alliance of stakeholders.

The House Next Door (HND) is one agency under contract to provide services to children and families. Morgan Perun is the senior director and sexual abuse treatment program coordinator.

“We already know children obviously are at a higher risk for sexual and physical abuse. (Nationally) for sexual abuse the statistic is one in 10 children are sexually abused. It’s already an alarming statistic.”

HND staff get specialized treatment in trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy so they can learn specialized sexual abuse treatment. They also provide child-parent psychotherapy and other forms of treatment, such as desensitization and re-processing therapy.

“During this time we are obviously concerned because children and families are home 24/7 now,” Ms. Perun said. “We encourage people continuing to set up house rules, creating activities that can be fun together. Minimizing the opportunity (for abuse) to happen even during this time. Revisiting online rules for kids to make sure that nothing is occurring outside the family as well. Keep the lines of communication open with your kids.

“A challenge of our therapists is to make sure a client has confidentiality when they are having therapy in their home,” she said. “It’s something we’ve been looking at. People are losing their jobs, tensions are rising, kids are struggling with school. Everybody during this time can be those eyes and ears for these kiddos who are at home. See something, say something. When in doubt, call it out. We need to do more advocating on a regular basis because (child abuse) is so prevalent.”

She added that teaching children about private body parts and boundaries is imperative, the sooner the better.

Because of the “stay-at-home” directive, therapy is done using telehealth services. Clients are still being seen and new clients are being accepted. Some of the ways HND staff protect children is having them use headphones so only they can hear their therapist. Therapeutic programs are open for children of any age and adults.

The Children’s Home Society also is providing telehealth services. Susan Haley is director of program operations and Tiffany Morin is a program supervisor with the Family Transition Program.

Ms. Morin stated, “Family transition is an in-home parenting and reunification support program. We could potentially see an increase in abuse reports as there are fewer eyes on children all around. We have so many stressors (especially with Covid-19) that are placed on parents that have worked really hard to gain positive coping skills and maintain the stability and have greater obstacles than families who are not involved in dependency or the child welfare system.

“We are trying to put more support systems in place,” Ms. Morin said. “We are using virtual visits. We are still able to see our families, see their homes, see their children and speak with them. We are trying to provide information and resources, including food distribution, energy-releasing activities for their children. Anything we can do to help them reduce their stressors and maintain the stability they have worked so hard to achieve thus far. We are working with them to utilize their resources as effectively and as efficiently as they can.”

Although closely monitoring their own clients, the society is accepting referrals and can provide community resource information.

Ms. Haley stated, “We are fully out there even on line with our community partners, saying these are our services, we are able to do this virtually. If you have clients that need assistance, we can assist. We have the capability to communicate with one another. We may not be there physically, but we’re still doing it.

“CHS is a statewide leader in the endeavor in regards to child abuse prevention,” she said. “We’ve put together a virtual training program that we’re rolling out to the community and mainly it’s for the parents or foster parents.”

Training topics include suicide awareness, domestic violence and needs during the pandemic.

Ms. Morin added, “We are working so hard to bring education and positive support to parents in the system and all around the community to break the cycle and foster stronger families, which will foster stronger communities.”

If you suspect abuse or neglect, call the abuse hotline at (800) 962-2873. You can remain anonymous. There is an average of 750 abuse calls received each month in the area.

For more information on The House Next Door visit thehnd.com. For more information on the Children’s Home Society visit chsfl.org/locations/greater-nefl-daytona/.

Originally posted by: Hometown News Volusia