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COVID-19 leaves children at risk

It’s up to all of us to help strengthen families and protect children

By Katie Albright and Joan Miller

With shelter in place, the daily, protective eyes of teachers, childcare professionals, coaches, and doctors are no longer on the Bay Area’s vulnerable children. This means children could be at greater risk for abuse and neglect. Even in the best of times, parenting is hard. During a crisis, it can be overwhelming. With the added anxiety of loved ones contracting COVID-19, fear of losing jobs and income, inability to pay rent, severed community connections, and the need to survive in small, cramped spaces—family stress and tension can be at an all-time high.

In San Francisco, our community is mobilizing to protect children and strengthen families. The Family and Children’s Services Division of San Francisco’s Human Services Agency is reaching out to families in our network daily. We are calling caregivers to offer support and guidance. We are partnering with community organizations—including Family Resource Centers serving all neighborhoods in San Francisco—to develop effective ways to provide crisis counseling, virtual visitation for children in foster care, parenting education, and other family support remotely. We are redesigning systems within our Department to make them more accessible and usable during the COVID-19 crisis, all while meeting state and federal requirements for child safety and workforce protection.

Now, more than ever, vulnerable children and families need community—neighbors, friends, colleagues, and other family members—to pay attention, offer support, and, if needed, take action. This is our community; these children and families are all of ours.

As we can see from what’s happening across the world, protecting children is everybody’s business. Last month, the United Nations reported that “[h]undreds of millions of children around the world will likely face increasing threats to their safety and wellbeing—including mistreatment, gender-based violence, exploitation, social exclusion and separation from caregivers—because of actions taken to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

We need everyone in the community to be a part of protecting children and supporting families so that they can care for their children during this time.

If you suspect children are being harmed in any way, call for help. Even though it’s hard, especially during these challenging times, we all must make protecting children our business.

  • If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, contact your local child welfare agency to make a confidential report anytime. Call 9-1-1 if a child is in imminent danger.
  • If you or someone you know needs support, call the TALK Line at 415-441-KIDS (5437) anytime. The TALK Line provides crisis counseling for parents and caregivers and can connect you with resources and family support.
  • When a family is struggling, reach out, and see how you can help.

Let’s work together to support families and keep children safe during this crisis. Thank you for your partnership.

Katie Albright is chief executive officer of Safe and Sound, formerly the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center. Joan Miller is deputy director of the Family and Children’s Services Division For the City and County of San Francisco Human Services Agency.

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