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  • Writer's pictureRebekah Henderson

Child Abuse, Neglect & Lockdowns

I would like to address the safety of Ontarian children as they have truly become an ignored group in the province’s response to COVID-19. According to Kid’s Help Phone, an organization that aims to support and identify children in abusive situations, in 2019, there was a total of 1.9 million calls, texts, and clicks to their online help resources, compared to in 2020, there were 4 million. That is a 53% increase in one year. And something more terrifying is that there has been an alarming 30% decrease in child abuse and neglect reports going to Family & Children’s services, according to Family & Children’s Services of Waterloo Region, and that was back in April; imagine how much worse it has gotten throughout the following months of lockdown. The fewer adults involved in a child’s life, like coaches, teachers, music instructors, pastors, etc., the more likely child abuse will go undetected. I have been studying the causes and implications of child abuse & neglect for years at the University of Waterloo, and there is no debate that an economic crisis in the family is a large contributing factor to the increase and severity of child abuse & neglect.
So why is this important? Furthermore, to answer that, I would like to discuss Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, an American Canadian pediatrician, and her study, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which looks at the overall health outcomes of children who experience any form of trauma. These ACEs include 1) Physical Abuse, 2) Emotional Abuse, 3) Sexual Abuse, 4) Physical Neglect, 5) Emotional Neglect, 6) Parental Mental Illness, 7) Mother Treated Violently, 8) Divorce, 9) Incarcerated Relative, 10) Parental Substance Abuse. With one that a person experienced before the age of 18, it adds 1 to their ACE score. For example, my personal ACE score is 7. It is essential to point out that 12.6 of the US population have an ACE score of 4 or higher, and due to the cultural similarities between Canada and the US, I can responsibly assume that Canada is not much different. Now, here are the long-term health risks of people with high ACE scores, as outlined by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris:

“A person with an ACE score of four or more, their relative risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease was two and a half times that of someone with an ACE score of zero. For hepatitis, it was
also two and a half times. For depression, it was four and a half times. For suicidality, it was 12
times. A person with an ACE score of seven or more had triple the lifetime risk of lung cancer and
three and a half times the risk of ischemic heart disease.”
- Dr. Nadine Burke Harris -

I wrote the first part of this article in the winter of 2021, and what I predicted back then, to my dismay, came true. According to US News, in America, “physical abuse of school-aged kids tripled during the early months of the pandemic” because of the stay-at-home orders, school closures, and because they were locked at home with their abuser. Older children reported the abuse after the stay-at-home orders. According to a recent study, the number of children 5 and older who were abused was 36 pre-pandemic, now the study found that 103 participants were abused during the pandemic. The most common form of abuse discovered in hospitals were head injuries, chest and abdomen injuries, and burn injuries. It gets worse. According to another study, the vast majority of child abuse injuries were not treated in hospitals, which means that child abuse is considered extremely underreported. Older children reported being beaten with a belt or punched. These victims often skipped school or would avoid other adults who might notice the injuries and report them. Why the increase?

"Stressful situations can be a trigger for poor judgment and impulsive reactions," said Dr. Allison
Jackson, division chief of the Child and Adolescent Protection Center at Children's National Hospital
in Washington, D.C. "There was a great deal of economic stress, job insecurity, and loss of housing
potential during this time frame along with the closing of schools, which can be a reprieve for
parents and kids.”
- US Today, 2021 -

This is a symptom of a much larger problem in our society; we don’t value the safety of children. Some adults would rather turn a blind eye to child abuse to feel safe from COVID-19 even though the infection fatality rate is incredibly low. A healthy society looks out for the young first; however, North America’s approach to COVID-19 policy put the safety and health of children last. Imagine a gunman is pointing a gun at a child, and he allows you to take the child's place; it would look pretty bad if an adult just turned around and ran away. That is exactly what happened during lockdowns, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing this to happen. We haven’t even seen the full impact of our government's COVID-19 policies, and we won’t see it for decades. The level of trauma we have forced onto children is at the level of generational trauma; they will never fully recover from what was done to them.
As a social worker, I am very disappointed in my profession because they knew that every policy the government implemented would have a lifelong impact on children, and they stayed silent out of fear. Only a few advocated for children during lockdowns and declared school, their activities, and socializing with friends as essential. Children were told they were selfish or “grandma killers” for wanting to socialize in person, which is essential for their development. Furthermore, what was infuriating was how Black Lives Matter was encouraged to “protest” (remember the “firey but mostly peaceful protests” that some turned into full-on riots across America) in the streets by the same people who told children they couldn’t see their friends, go to school or participate in activities. I support the right to protest; however, I don’t support the government dictating what you do in your everyday life. Each individual knows what they need for their health, and it is up to them to do what’s best for them. Nobody else is responsible for your health; you are, and people need to take ownership of that. The purpose of life is not to avoid sickness, if it were, life would be meaningless. Jesus called us to go to the sick, not avoid them. He called us to run into the fire to love our neighbours and enemies, not hide away at home. Of course, if you are sick, don’t go out and infect people. However, when someone is suicidal, lonely, depressed, anxious, sick, or mourning, the most loving thing is to be with them physically and be present with them, not abandon them to follow government rules that go against human nature. Just because you may be okay to isolate doesn’t mean that your neighbour doesn’t need you to be present. Christians are called to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus, we are to put ourselves last to love our neighbour because we trust that God will take care of us.
We must say “never again” to what we did to children and youth and stand up to government overreach if they try to attempt any more crimes against humanity, especially when they are targeted at our children. I hope now you can see how the ongoing lockdowns will negatively impact the long-term health outcomes for children in Ontario and why they must stop immediately. Lockdowns have increased children's risk of abuse and neglect and have increased parent substance use, domestic violence and divorce, which are all proven to negatively impact a child’s health for the rest of their lives.


Resources


Cali Doran, “Family and Children's Services Concerned about Lower Volume of Child Abuse Reports,” KitchenerToday.com (KitchenerToday.com, April 23, 2020), https://www.kitchenertoday.com/coronavirus-covid 19-local-news/family-and-childrens-services-concerned-about-lower-volume-of-child-abuse-reports-2276941.
Hernandez , Jon. “Child Abuse Likely under-Reported since Start of Pandemic, Doctor Warns | CBC News.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, May 10, 2020. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/child-abuse-likely-under-reported-since-start-of-pandemic-doctor-warns-1.5563397.
Nadine Burke Harris, “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES),” The Burke Foundation, December 8, 2020, https://burkefoundation.org/what-drives-us/adverse-childhood-experiences-aces/.
Nadine Burke Harris, “Transcript of ‘How Childhood Trauma Affects Health across a Lifetime,’” TED, February 17, 2015,
https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_childhood_trauma_affects_health_across_a_lifetime/transcript ?language=en#t-402091.
True North Wire, True North. “193 Instances of Child Sexual Abuse on Pornhub: Canadian Center for Child Protection.” True North, February 23, 2021. https://tnc.news/2021/02/23/193-instances-of-child-sexual-abuse-on-pornhub-canadian-center-for-child-protection/.
US News. “Study Confirms Rise in Child Abuse during Covid Pandemic.” U.S. News & World Report, October 8, 2021. https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-10-08/study-confirms-rise-in-child-abuse-during-covid-pandemic.


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