Protecting Children and Preventing Abuse During the Covid-19 Pandemic
The world is facing an unprecedented situation with the COVID-19 pandemic causing the closure of schools, after-school programs, day-care centers, and youth-serving organizations. Parents may be trying to work from home while helping homeschool children, filing for unemployment or going without any income at all if they are not eligible. Many of them are scrambling to find childcare while risking their lives performing "essential jobs" in their communities. With the added emotional and financial stress and lack of access to the usual outside support networks of educators, social workers, childcare workers, after-school program staff, and counselors at youth-serving organizations, parents are being challenged to cope with the even greater demands the pandemic is placing on everyone.
Our Massachusetts Resource Guide for Parents and Caregivers: Caring For Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic can help raise awareness about the increased risk to children of abuse and neglect during this time, and provide support to parents and other caregivers to help keep children safe.
Lifelines for Students At Risk of Abuse
For the first time ever, rape crisis hotlines across the country are reporting a significant increase in calls from children and youth. The vast majority of these callers report they are living with the person who is hurting them. For many children, lack of access to their teachers, school nurses, social workers, counselors, and coaches means they may not have anyone outside their home they can confide in. As a result, reports of child abuse and neglect to the Department for Children and Families (DCF) have fallen sharply since stay-at-home orders were issued.
Before the pandemic, MassKids had developed a Student Safety Poster to encourage students who feel unsafe to tell a trusted adult or call the Child-at-Risk line. Endorsed by the MA Association of School Superintendents and the MA School Nurse Organization, over 500 posters (18"x24") were posted in schools across the state in January.
Since physical distribution of the remaining 4,500 posters to all 1,850 public schools is on hold during the pandemic, MassKids is sending the electronic 8.5"x11" flyer version of the poster to schools. We are encouraging them to post it on their web homepages, and send it directly to students, if possible, to let children know that even during this isolating period, schools are serious about protecting their students from any form of abuse.
Download the Student Safety Flyer and distribute it widely to your school.
Radio Interview: Morning Show on North Shore 104.9FM with Senator Bruce Tarr
Listen to the Morning Show on North Shore 104.9FM radio interview with MassKids Executive Director Jetta Bernier taped on May 4th, 2020. Jetta, Senator Bruce Tarr and Morning Show hosts discuss the problem of child abuse during COVID-19, and steps people can take to protect children.
A Message from the Executive Director:
Preventing Future Sanduskys, R. Kellys, Nassars, Epsteins…..
By Jetta Bernier, MassKids Executive Director
On New Year’s Day, the American Flag was raised atop the U.S. Capitol Building “in honor of survivors and victims of childhood sexual abuse.” This show of solidarity, initiated by Texas Senator John Cornyn, was a powerful reminder that child sexual abuse is, according to the America Medical Association, “a silent, violent epidemic.” An estimated 42 million Americans living today are victims. One-third of them are infants, toddlers, school-aged children and teens; the average age of child victims is eight. According to a U.S. Department of Education study, one in ten or 4.5 million students report experiencing some form of sexual abuse or misconduct by a school employee sometime between Kindergarten and 12th grade.
Last month the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that in 2018 alone, tech companies and the public made 18.4 million reports to the Center’s Cyber-Tipline, that involved over 45 million photos and videos of children being sexually abused – more than double the preceding year, and exponentially greater than the 100,000 reports received in 2008. These paralyzing figures have prompted public health officials to declare that sexual abuse and the online sexual exploitation of children have now reached a pandemic level.
Numbers tell only a partial story. Research confirms that the impact of sexual abuse on children and teens can profoundly affect their physical and mental health, their capacity to learn and succeed academically, and their ability to form healthy social and emotional relationships. The trauma of sexual abuse often expresses itself in adulthood through depression, substance abuse, broken relationships, or criminal behavior. Our nation spends billions each year as law enforcement agencies, courts, child protection, health and mental health systems and social services programs struggle to deal with the aftermath of sexual abuse. Prevention holds the best promise of reducing the staggering human and fiscal costs.
While raising the flag on the U.S. Capitol was intended to raise awareness about the problem, the reality is that citizens are already reminded with sickening regularity about the extent of child sexual abuse and its devastating impact on our children and communities. Names like Jerry Sandusky, Larry Nasser, R. Kelly, Jeffrey Epstein and so many more have infiltrated our national consciousness. Every day, dozens of other names of those arrested for child sexual abuse are reported in local media. We hold our breath waiting to learn about the next parent, neighbor, teacher, clergy, police officer, public figure, youth counselor, theatre director, tutor, etc. whose sexual misconduct has violated our children and our trust.
Clearly, the nation is benefitting greatly from the #MeToo movement that challenges the sexual assault of adults in the workplace. Children, however, remain largely on the sidelines of this conversation. What is required now is a #KidsToo movement to prevent the sexual assault of children in their “workplaces,” that is, in the places children live, learn, and play.
MassKids, the nation’s oldest non-profit child advocacy organization, is taking bold action to do just that. Its unique online action campaign, Pledge to Prevent™, is capitalizing on the public’s heightened awareness about child sexual abuse and is building the knowledge and skills of everyday citizens to take specific, concrete and achievable actions to prevent sexual abuse from ever occurring.
Partnering with parents, national organizations, sexual abuse survivors, college students, etc., the campaign is challenging people everywhere to choose one of over 30 pledges as either a Learner to get the basic facts, a Prevention Influencer to educate others, a Safe Community Promoter to engage schools and youth organizations, or a Movement Builder to promote prevention legislation and policies. Pledgers immediately receive resources matched to their specific pledge in order to build their knowledge and confidence, and empower them to carry out their selected prevention action.
The campaign’s goal is to reach as many pleders as possible. A national launch is planned in April to commemorate Child Abuse Prevention Month. We are seeking “Celebrity survivors” from entertainment, music, and sports to serve as Pledge Ambassadors who will then challenge thousands of their online followers to take action.
We collectively raised the flag on New Year’s Day to commemorate survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Now, let our 2020 resolution be to raise our voices, get educated, take action, and reclaim the right of all our children to a healthy and safe childhood.
Jetta Bernier is Executive Director of MassKids, the Boston-based child advocacy organization where she leads the Enough Abuse Campaign, a child sexual abuse prevention initiative that has been adopted in 8 states. She is Policy Co-Chair for the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation.
Stop the Hurt Before it Starts
MassKids made great strides in 2019 to educate parents, schools, youth organizations and the public about child sexual abuse and ways to prevent it.
- 8 states have now formally adopted our Enough Abuse Campaign - building coalitions, educating parents, training professionals, promoting prevention policies for schools and youth organizations, and passing legislation to address the problem.
- Over 3,300 school employees have completed “Enough!” - MassKids’ 1-hour, online, evidence-informed training developed specifically for schools. Burlington, Longmeadow, Barnstable, Dracut, Auburn, Deerfield Academy, Noble & Greenough, Newman School, Greenfield, St. George’s (RI), Episcopal High School (VA), etc., are among the first to adopt the course. Leaders in several other schools across the country are currently previewing it.
- 7 research-based and evidence-informed curricula are now included in our comprehensive inventory of training tools. Our online course for schools was hailed this year as an effective crime prevention tool by the U.S. Department of Justice.
- 600 individuals participated in direct trainings that we delivered in person this year to schools and youth-serving organization leaders and staff.
- Pledge to Prevent™, MassKids’ online campaign for action to prevent child sexual abuse, is being promoted by several national organizations who are our "Pledge Partners", as well as groups of college students and individuals. Our goal is to educate and empower thousands of citizens nationwide to take specific, practical actions to prevent child sexual abuse. We are planning for a national launch in April, Child Abuse Prevention Month.
- MassKids has developed an online, interactive MAPS resource, the most up-to-date and accurate tracking of legislation which mandates schools to train their staffs on child sexual abuse, and prohibits them from aiding and abetting an employee engaged in sexual misconduct from securing a position in another school.
MassKids is making progress on this difficult front but we need your support to reach our goals for children faster. Here are some ways you can help:
- Choose MassKids as your charity of choice and make a personally significant gift to support our cutting-edge work. Your dollars go far as more than 90% of funds go directly to support our prevention programs.
- Reach out to the schools or youth organizations in your community. Encourage them to engage MassKids in training their staffs and in developing their safe child policies.
- Serve on one of our work groups to help develop resources for parents whose children with disabilities are at significantly higher risk for sexual abuse.
- Become an ambassador to bring the Enough Abuse Campaign to your community, or a certified trainer to provide your community with information about how to keep kids safe.
- Promote the Pledge to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse with your network and Take the Pledge!
Whatever you choose to do, know that you are building the movement to ensure each child’s right to a safe and healthy childhood – one free from the devastating and life-long impact of child sexual abuse.
The youth chorus from Framingham schools that performed at our previous conferences said it best:
Stop the hurt before it starts. We don’t need more broken hearts.
Our kids should grow up fine and free. It’s up to you and me!
To See and Support Our Plans for 2020 - Click HERE!