Domestic violence calls increase in Eagle County during coronavirus, child abuse reports decrease
During the two months since the first stay-at-home order was issued to help control the spread of COVID-19 in Eagle County, the majority of the population has been sheltering in place. But the pandemic has quickly become more than a medical crisis, and for many, staying at home is not a safe option.
Alma De Lara, bilingual advocate and Rapid ReHousing coordinator for Bright Future Foundation, said there’s been an increase in calls into the foundation’s domestic violence and abuse hotline in recent months compared to last year, taking into account that there are fewer people in the county due to the lack of tourists and temporary workers.
“Even though we only have a third of the population, crisis calls are up 26%. So there are a lot less people and a lot more calls,” she said.
Bright Future Foundation is a nonprofit organization that empowers victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse through free prevention, crisis intervention, advocacy and long-term healing services.
According to De Lara, the stay-at-home orders have possibly contributed to the increase in crisis calls for domestic violence, since perpetrators have more control and surveillance over the victims as there are limited opportunities to leave the house due to the virus.
“They have more power but with more problems. They don’t know when everything is going back to normal, they don’t know if they are going to return to work, they don’t know how they are going to pay the bills,” said De Lara. “They have power in one aspect of their life with the immediate people in the home but have very little control over what is happening around them.”
During the pandemic, Bright Future Foundation has also seen a 30% increase in requests for rental assistance, and the organization currently has a waiting list of people who are seeking virtual therapy sessions.
Bright Future Foundation has a temporary shelter for victims of domestic or sexual abuse called Freedom Ranch. Despite the fact that staffers are admitting fewer people to the house in order to maintain social distance between the inhabitants, they have seen a 17% increase in calls from people who want to enter the home.
“We are telling people that yes, we can explore that option of the shelter house, but they should bear in mind that it is a shared home with several other families and they may be exposed to the virus or have more risks, yet people prefer that because perhaps in the situation they are in, they don’t have any safety at all,” De Lara said.
De Lara also said that having domestic violence in the home increases the possibility of child abuse by up to 60%.
With school closures and stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus, children have also been exposed to dangerous situations at home.
According to Kendra Kleinschmidt, deputy director of Eagle County Children, Family and Adult Services, there have been more and more reports to the child abuse hotline each year.
In 2019, the Latinx community represented 30% of the total population in Eagle County. On average, about 60% of children with open child welfare assessments were Latinx, according to Kleinschmidt.
“We were continuing to see an increase in child abuse reports at the begining of 2020, but when the coronavirus pandemic started and schools closed in mid-March, we immediately saw a drop in the number of referrals that were coming into our hotline,” Kleinschmidt added.
In April, there was a 66% decrease in the number of reports to the child abuse hotline, compared to reports in April of 2019.
This decrease does not necessarily mean there are fewer cases of child abuse, but rather that the county is not receiving information on the cases, according to Kleinschmidt.
One of the main reasons why less cases were reported during April was that there was no contact between children and mandated reporters, who make the majority of the reports.
“Mandated reporters are individuals who work in areas where they have some contact with children and are required within their job description and job duties to make calls into the child welfare hotline when they have a suspicion or concern of child abuse or neglect,” said Tracey Branch, Eagle County Children, Family and Adult Services manager.
During this time of the pandemic, child welfare workers continue to make home visits to evaluate new allegations of child abuse and neglect, maintaining social distance and using face masks.
In existing cases where child welfare was already involved with families, most visits were made through video conferences for six weeks. At the beginning of May, all in-person visits resumed.
However, Kleinschmidt and Branch ask that families and neighbors look out for each other and report possible cases of child abuse as there is still limited contact with mandated reporters.
“The reporter’s information is always kept confidential; that is a requirement by law. Child welfare is never allowed to tell a family who made that report. We hope that that gives people more assurance to call,” Kleinschmidt said.
The child abuse hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and reports can be made in English or Spanish by calling 1-844-264-5437.
The Bright Future Foundation’s domestic and sexual abuse crisis hotline is also available 24/7 and you can always ask to contact someone who speaks Spanish.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.
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