Does Child Abuse & Neglect Increase During Holidays?

December 7, 2020
abuse during the Holiday Season
abuse during the Holiday Season

Though families across the country spend the holiday season enjoying the festivities and celebrating, there are some families that dread this time of year.  Amongst the family gatherings and gift exchanges are overwhelming financial difficulties, alcohol or drug usage, and uncontrolled tempers.  The holidays bring families perhaps too close together, where family members and trusted people outside the family are the main perpetrators of domestic abuse.  Unfortunately, this holiday season is also compounded with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, where communities across the country normally see an increase in child abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse cases.

Over the course of a single year, over 700,000 children have been the victim of either a form of abuse or neglect, with cases happening more during the holidays than any other time of year.  This statistic is also confirmed by social workers and researchers who have interviewed children and had followed their cases: the abuse suffered by those in the household was likely to increase when the holidays came around.

For poorer or poverty-stricken families, finances tighten around the holidays, which heaps an enormous amount of stress on the caregivers who may lose focus.  Another major factor in child abuse cases are the increasing likelihood of drug and alcohol usage.  There is also untreated mental illness and outside stresses that contribute to child abuse and neglect.

This is all compounded with the pandemic; as work and school closures have forced parents to be both caregivers and the main source of income, these parents may already had struggled in those roles, now amplified.  Social distancing helps influence isolation and may cut off support systems that some family members may have relied on before, such as a grandmother watching the kids or a babysitter.  Previous studies for those that quarantine have shown increases in depression, anxiety, and other adverse mental issues.

Unfortunately, the issues of the holiday season and the pandemic also affect the reporting of child abuse cases.  Research has shown that almost two-thirds of child abuse or neglect cases are reported by those who are in the field; this includes social workers, teachers, and health care providers.  The last third of reported cases are made by friends and relatives, whom may be hesitant during the holidays to prevent taking the “joy” away from the season.  As for the pandemic, reports may see a decrease as many families are mostly indoors with remote working and at-home-schooling, and those that normally report abuse cases are no longer present.

How to Identify and Prevent Child Abuse

It is important to know that most child abuse cases happen within the home by either members of the family or those close to the family.  Being aware of this may help identify if child abuse, either physical or sexual is happening within the home.  Vulnerable children normally show signs of timidness or fearfulness.  Child abuse can also be suspected if a caregiver shows sign of depression or anxiety.  Their reactions to their child’s behavior should also be noticed.

Speaking with the family is a good way to identify possible abuse in the home.  Asking questions about their support group, or lack thereof, and how they manage stress.  It is good to know if any alcohol or drugs are being abused or have been in the past.  Because of the pandemic, physical signs will be hard to determine, as most meetings, even personal meetings, happen virtually, so questions are especially important in child abuse cases and should focus on the possible distress of the child or caregiver.

With holiday schedules and constant distractions, it is normal to ask for additional help from a babysitter or an outside caregiver.  Be mindful that sexual abuse cases increase during the holiday season just as much as physical abuse cases or neglect.  Unfortunately, sexual abuse happens to children who are left alone with babysitters and even family members who were trusted and loved.

Certain discussions must be made with a child to help prevent sexual abuse, including conversations about saying no and their own personal space and boundaries.  Let a child know that it is never okay for anyone to touch them without their permission.  This includes signs of affections like a kiss or hug, and tell them should the situation ever occur, to immediately tell you or another adult if anyone crossed those boundaries.

A good way to prevent abuse is to limit the time a child spends with anyone.  If a child does have to be left alone with a caretaker or babysitter, that person should be aware that they will be checked on randomly at times.  Sexual abuse mainly happens between a child and an adult within the household, about 80% of the time.  But the almost all other sexual abuse cases occur with other youth as well.  Limiting alone time includes everyone, young and old, even if that person is close and beloved.

Unfortunately, most child abuse cases happen with someone the child knows and trusts.  To help prevent this within the house, or in a neighbor’s, reach out to someone who appears in distress and be supportive.  This may help relieve stress and redirect any aggression or unchecked temper.

There are adults who have been abused in the past that now suffer from post-traumatic stress during the holiday season.  Painful reminders of being abused by someone whom they may have loved or trusted most likely has stunted their mental or emotional growth and may be more susceptible to perpetuating that same abuse.  Most are too ashamed to admit they were abused or to seek treatment.

Even if there is no abuse suspected, it is important to let all caregivers of children know that they are appreciated and there are people willing to help.  Remind them to breathe and take a break and to let someone else shoulder the load. Families during the holiday season and within this pandemic are facing an enormously stressful time, with job losses and the stress of the holiday compounded with the anxiety of social isolation.  Staying connected to others, even virtually, helps the human mind feel more comforted and calmer, and could prevent an abuse from happening.

The Haddonfield Child Protection and Permanency Lawyers at The Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help Protect Children During the Holiday Season

The holidays may not be a joyful time for some families, as this time of year can bring overwhelming stress and anxiety to those who are struggling.  Unfortunately, this often can lead to child abuse, especially by family members who are loved and trusted.  If you suspect child abuse in your home, then contact the Haddonfield child protection and permanency lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker right away.  Our experienced lawyers will fight to protect your children and those that you love.  Call us today at 856-210-976.  With our offices located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we proudly serve all communities of Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Voorhees, and South Jersey.

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