EL CENTRO — No school campuses to attend, no workplaces to clock-in, and family members were altogether in their residences during the COVID-19 pandemic lock down. This was an opportunity to get closer to each other as a family.
While this was a welcome opportunity to many families, it was not the case for some children during the quarantine because of something they dreaded — abuse.
“Because of social distancing, children and parents, or caretakers, were kept at home. Children had a higher risk of abuse because of lack of involvement with other community members,” said Yvette Garcia, executive director of Imperial County Child Abuse Prevention Council, a non-profit organization formed in 1978.
Children stayed within the walls of their home. Parks and places for children were temporarily closed. They were limited on places to go.
According to Garcia, abuse also takes place among children with disabilities and special needs. For example, children who are autistic, deaf, or blind.
“Child abuse has no discrimination. It can be anyone,” said Garcia.
Before the pandemic, child abuse was already happening. But during the quarantine, there were no longer other eyes to watch children, according to Garcia. At the initial lock down, the mandated reporting for child abuse dropped. “But slowly, domestic violence increased.”
Garcia attributed this to the quarantine, which allowed the abuser to be with the child victim for longer periods of time. “Because everyone was home and had the stress of losing jobs and income, we knew there would be potential abuse to deal with stresses,” said Garcia.
According to Garcia, there are four kinds of child abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect.
Physical abuse is intentional harm towards a child. Sexual abuse is sexual exploitation such as molestation, incest, sexual gratification, and human trafficking. Emotional abuse is expressed as name calling, belittling, shaming, humiliating, negative comparisons, and bullying. Neglect is when a child does not receive basic needs, there is no supervision, nutritional needs are not met, or the child resides in an unhealthy environment.
Garcia said, “From January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019 there were 3,289 children with one or more allegations of suspected child abuse reported to Imperial County Child Protective Services. A child is counted only once, in the category of the highest severity.”
From the 3,289 cases, general neglect had the highest reports involving 3,011 children, followed by physical abuse with 111 children.
“Children under five were especially susceptible to child abuse because they were often non-verbal and had limited interaction with others outside of the family,” Garcia said. “Parents often had a lack or a misunderstanding of what were realistic expectations and normal behaviors.”
According to Garcia, 70 percent of child abuse was committed by their parents because they lost control or were frustrated. The other 30 percent was committed by boyfriends, girlfriends, uncles, or other caretakers. Strangers and predators lurking at school campuses had the smallest population of abusers, but these were the ones commonly portrayed in the media, according to Garcia.
“Nobody wants to talk about child abuse because it is one of those taboo subjects,” said Garcia. “It is uncomfortable and devastating to hear.”
Garcia said the cycle of child abuse can be stopped through education. “We need to know how to parent and how to be a stronger family through education.”
Imperial County Child Abuse Prevention Council provides free parenting classes. The goals of the classes are to raise children to be healthy, safe, and productive citizens in the community. Included in the topics were bonding and attachment, physical and emotional development, discipline and consequences, and parental involvement in academic success.
Classes are available in English and Spanish. To participate and register in these classes, call Children and Parents Council at (760) 353-8300.
“Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation,” said Garcia, who encourages parents to participate in classes that are available to prevent children from being abused.