Child Abuse Advocates Seeing More Severe Cases of Abuse Since Pandemic
April is Child Abuse Awareness month, and resources to help those who have been abused say the pandemic has changed so many aspects of their practice.
“Children’s Advocacy Centers are that place where kids can go and families can go to get all the support that they need when there’s allegations of abuse,” said Northern Michigan Children’s Assessment Center Executive Director Rebecca Yunker.
That’s the goal of the Northern Michigan Children’s Assessment Center —or NMCAC—in Roscommon.
They say most people don’t know the kinds of resources they provide for a five county area.
“Anytime an officer or a CPS worker receives an allegation that a child has been abused or neglected , we want to minimize the trauma that those kids are going through as part of that investigation,” said Yunker. “Part of the investigation is they have to be forensically interviewed, which can be really scary for these kids. The kids come here for that forensic interview.”
After being interviewed, the center provides resources like counseling.
“There’s a lot of lingering effects such as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, there’s irrational thinking, trying to help process what’s happening to them, so we offer therapy after their interview is finished,” said NMCAC Clincal Supervisor Jessie Thompson.
For kids already going through a traumatic event in their life, the center says the pandemic made things worse.
“A lot of our reports come from mandated reporters, which are teachers, daycare providers, doctors, dentists,” said Yunker. “As a result of the pandemic, these kids were isolated so we weren’t seeing those reports coming in like we had in the past.”
In 2019, NMCAC says they had 239 cases—or 20 new cases a month.
In 2021, that jumped to 341 new cases—or 28 new cases a month.
What’s more shocking to the center, however, are the numbers from this year so far—at 107 cases, or 35 new cases a month.
“Our cases then are getting even more severe,” Yunker said. “The allegations that we’re hearing, the kids that we’re seeing , the abuse that they’ve experienced these last two years are just more horrendic and more severe, which has just added to that trauma.”
Without in-person contact with mandatory reporters during the pandemic, the center says children were exposed to abuse for longer periods of time.
“The trauma these kids are experiencing, not only do they have the trauma of the abuse, they have the trauma of the pandemic, the trauma of being isolated, the trauma of not having support,” said Yunker.
The Roscommon County Prosecutor’s Office says they’re seeing the same thing with offenders.
“We started seeing a lot of people that we’ve never seen before,” said Prosecutor Mary Beebe. “A lot of the people that were suffering from mental health issues previously, they had that under control either because they were doing counseling and getting services through community mental health on a regular basis. With Covid, we started seeing problems with those people that we’ve never seen before and then other ones again that we already were seeing, it was just more often that we were seeing them.”
During Covid, court cases were rescheduled sometimes multiple times which Prosecutor Beebe says was emotional for victims and their families.
“You start getting the victim ready, emotionally, they get anxious, they’re nervous about testifying, and you get close to that and you’ll be like oh we have to reschedule, the trial’s not going to happen,” said Beebe. “That rollercoaster of emotions was not healthy for them, it was really difficult.”
NMCAC says the pandemic will have last effects on everyone—but especially children who experience abuse.
“It is going to take us a couple of years, I think, to kind of get back into that routine where kids feel supported by the people in the community,” said Yunker.
The most important message they want you to remember is to tell someone if you see signs of child abuse.
“We know abuse is generational,” said Yunker. “If we can really get these kids the help they need at the time they’re disclosing abuse, then I think long term then, those kids can grow up and be healthy adults who don’t continue that cycle.”
You can find more information about NMCAC here.
You can find indicators of child abuse from MDHHS here.