Child Protection and COVID-19: Pandemic is tough for everyone, but it can be especially hard for children

Q: How has the pandemic affected child welfare in Idaho?

A: The pandemic has affected child welfare in Idaho in all kinds of ways. Parents are stressed, children are stressed, everyone is stressed, and we are all staying home more than ever so we don’t get sick or make others sick. That can mean children and families have less support than ever before. This can be a tough combination for healthy relationships between parents and children.

It’s important to know these strange and unprecedented times are affecting all of us and we can all use a little extra support so situations don’t get out of control. There are resources available to help during these particularly hard times. The COVID Help Now Line offers statewide support to anyone who is feeling distress related to the pandemic. Responders can help talk through supports and coping strategies. It’s anonymous and available 8 a.m. -8 p.m. MT seven days a week by calling 866-947-5186.

It’s also important to remember that child protection is a responsibility for all of us, and if you have concerns about a family situation or a child’s safety, it’s important to reach out and report your concerns by calling the Idaho CareLine at 2-1-1.

Q: I don’t want to interfere in a family’s business – how do I know when to call to report possible child abuse or neglect?

A: Sometimes people have concerns about children in their community, but they wonder if those concerns are really enough to call Child Protection.

Even when there may be doubt, we urge every concerned adult to make the call. You might be all that stands between that child and abuse or neglect, their true safety net. Just because you call doesn’t mean a child is going to be removed from their home. When concerned adults make the call, our social workers are trained to work with families to get them the services they need to be safe and to stay together if at all possible.

You can report by calling the Idaho CareLine at 2-1-1. All calls are documented on our system, but they are not all assigned to a social worker to investigate. Getting assigned depends on the circumstances of each call. We encourage everyone to make the call and leave it to the trained social workers who staff the child protection hotline to make the determination about next steps.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what kind of things to look for or report. You should call if you see a child:

  • With injuries such as bruises, welts, cuts, bite marks, or broken bones with no appropriate explanation
  • With burns or bruises that look like the object with which they may have been inflicted
  • With a pattern of repeated injuries
  • Who says he or she was hurt by an adult
  • Who has told you they have been touched inappropriately
  • Who talks about having to play “games” the child doesn’t like
  • Who tells you they have to keep something a secret
  • Who says that someone will be hurt if they tell the secret
  • Who persistently engages in developmentally inappropriate sexual behaviors
  • Who is young and is left alone
  • Who lives in a house with health or safety hazards
  • Who has nothing to eat and appears hungry and underweight

Please make the call even if you are not sure it is abuse or neglect. Call and let trained social workers or law enforcement decide if there is enough information to respond. You don’t have to be prepared to prove abuse or neglect when you call. You just need to make the call.

Q: If someone calls, what information do they need to have available? Is the call really anonymous?

A: Idaho is considered a “mandatory reporting state” for suspected child abuse or maltreatment. The law states that any person, having reason to believe that a child has been abused, abandoned, or neglected, or who sees the child being subjected to conditions or circumstances that would reasonably result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect shall report, or cause to be reported, such conditions or circumstances within 24 hours to the department or law enforcement.

Reports of child abuse or neglect made in good faith and without malice are immune from civil liability. 

You can report anonymously, but it is better for the department or law enforcement agency to have your contact information in case additional information is needed to help the social worker or law enforcement officer determine next steps.

When you call, it’s helpful to have the following kind of information:

  • The child and family’s name, address, and phone number
  • Description of your specific concerns about the child
  • Names and contact information for other people who may also have information
  • Any additional information you have about the child and their caregivers that may be helpful

Miren Unsworth is the administrator for the Division of Family and Community Services in the Department of Health and Welfare.  She is a licensed master social worker and has worked for the department in various capacities for 17 years.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.

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