It is no secret that children have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why organizations like the Center for Prevention of Child Abuse, based in Poughkeepsie, has been working constantly since the pandemic to provide help for children in need.
Rachel Johnson, director of development for the organization, shared how the economic effects of pandemic have created a “perfect storm of maltreatment.”
“In the beginning, we had the quarantine, then you have layoffs, activities canceled. And now you have online schooling as the new norm,” she said. “So it’s made easier for perpetrators to hide abuse. And so the result is that abuse is happening more frequently.”
Learning remotely has affected the way child abuse is reported. As it is, over 1,000 cases in Dutchess County are reported each year, while six times as many go underreported.
According to Johnson, about 80 percent of cases are reported by teachers and school personnel. Since students don’t have much access to school personnel through virtual learning, it has made it difficult for teachers to gauge what their students are experiencing at home.
To respond to this problem, CPCA has started an initiative called Project Protect 2021, which aims to engage the community in being the reporters of child abuse when they hear or see something suspicious.
Virtual school programs are also available to help children express how they feel through the usage of puppets and play therapy kits.
Four hundred and seventy-three virtual and in-person therapy sessions have been provided since the pandemic first hit last year. Families who were already at-risk for abuse have only become far more vulnerable, said Johnson.
“If there were families that were sort of at risk for abuse, or struggling before, they’re definitely struggling now,” she said.
One big breakthrough for the organization was securing enough funding for an in-house service dog. Named Peace, the service dog will be housed in the organization to provide therapeutic and support-based services for children in need.
“He really lives up to his name,” said Johnson.” He’s very peaceful.”
Johnson believes that the conversation on child abuse is changing, as more people are willing to discuss a topic that is still quite taboo.
“A positive that has come out of a pandemic is that there’s been some increased awareness,” she said. “We’re finally shedding some light on some of these really tough issues that haven’t been talked about enough.”
An earlier version of this article misreported the name of the school initiative Project Protect 2021 and reported a total of 322 therapy sessions as opposed to 473. The most recent data was reported the Friday before the article was published.