As the novel coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, spreads across the world, families across the globe are being encouraged to practice social distancing as much as possible. This means that schools are being closed and people have been told to self-isolate in their homes. It’s a necessary measure, meant to combat a significant public health emergency. It’s also a measure that could put many children in danger. This April, be aware that cruelty to children is a serious issue, whether a child you know is being abused, or you have been accused of child cruelty. Contact the Don Turner Legal Team if you are facing child cruelty charges.
There has been a noticeable drop in calls to child abuse hotlines in the weeks since social distancing measures were enacted across America. At first glance, this might seem like good news. Unfortunately, many experts believe that this drop in reports of child abuse and neglect is due to children no longer attending school or daycare, keeping them away from teachers, childcare workers, and other adults who have a mandatory duty to report any suspected child abuse.
Research shows that when parents lose their jobs, children can be negatively affected in a variety of ways, including an increase in harsh or neglectful parenting. COVID-19 has caused a wave of unemployment, as businesses are forced to lay off workers due to a staggering loss of revenue, with certain sectors, such as the travel industry, being hit especially hard. In fact, some economists have speculated that the unemployment rate could hit 32 percent due to COVID-19 – worse than the Great Depression’s peak of 24.9 percent.
When parents find themselves unemployed, they lose their means to provide for their children, which can sometimes lead to incidents of child neglect. Other parents might take out their frustration over their sudden job loss on their children. Still more parents were already mistreating their children and may escalate the abuse due to their new circumstances. No matter the situation, numerous incidents of child abuse and neglect could be going unreported due to COVID-19, and protection agencies are concerned.
Children who are being abused at home may not be able to call for help, due to the risk of being overheard. Protection agencies can no longer rely on mandatory reporters like teachers to alert them to cases of child abuse. Many agencies have cut back on in-person inspections of homes where child abuse or neglect is suspected to be taking place, due to the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. Although virtual visits are an alternative, they can only show caseworkers so much, especially if the child is non-verbal, or the visit is taking place in a crowded home, where people may be reluctant to speak up.
With child protection agencies hamstrung by social distancing protocols, and children unable to turn to teachers or other mandatory reporters for help, many young people are surely suffering behind closed doors. A north Texas hospital has already reported six cases of severe child abuse suspected to be linked to stresses caused by the coronavirus crisis. And those are just a few of the cases that were brought to light – many agencies fear what isn’t being reported right now.
At a time like this, one of the best things we can do is look out for one another as a community. Check in with your loved ones and neighbors and offer them a listening ear. Offering donations of food and supplies to people who are struggling due to COVID-19 can remove a huge source of household stress. And remember that anyone can report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect, not just state-mandated mandatory reporters.
This is also a good time to be aware that cruelty to children is a serious crime in Georgia. While no one likes to talk about it, especially in anxious times like these, false accusations of child abuse do happen, and honest accidents can be misconstrued as abuse. Charges of child cruelty are something you need to take seriously. If you are accused of any form of cruelty to children, you need to seek legal representation. You don’t want to face these charges alone.
First-degree cruelty to children – deliberately depriving children in your care of things they need to live or deliberately causing them severe mental or physical harm – is a felony offense, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Second degree cruelty to children – allowing a child to come to harm because of your negligence – could land you in prison for 10 years. Finally, third-degree cruelty to children – allowing a child to witness or overhear a misdemeanor, felony, or family violence battery you committed – is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.00.
Now is a time to be vigilant about the threat of child abuse and neglect. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected by their caregivers, contact DFCS at 1.855.GACHILD (+1 855-422-4453). And if you have been accused of cruelty to children, contact the Don Turner Legal Team today and see how we can help you with your case.