LETTER: The unintended consequences

Our leaders and experts are doing the best they can to navigate this health crisis and to flatten the curve and keep COVID-19 from taking more lives. But in the simplest of terms, our world has been turned upside down by this pandemic. People are suffering from prolonged isolation, financial instability and food insecurity to name just a few challenges.

Our children have been robbed of key milestones of their youth. Our homes have become our workspaces and our parents are now expected to be both teacher and employee at the same time. For most of us, our entire world has now become our computer screen—everything is now virtual. 

For those of us who serve at-risk and vulnerable children, the past eight months—and who knows how much longe—have watched our worst nightmare unfold right before our very eyes and we feel completely helpless. The data tells us that our mandatory reports of concern for child abuse and neglect have decreased by 40% since the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns started because child care providers and our schools were our frontline reporters regarding child abuse and neglect. 

Research tells us there is a direct correlation to child abuse and neglect when there is housing insecurity, food insecurity and financial stress amongst the top toxic stressors. All of those issues existed before the pandemic, but now have been exacerbated with the ramifications of dealing with COVID. We now have isolation added into the mix. Our kids are living in what can only described as a pressure cooker of toxic stress. The perfect storm is coming—when our schools and communities begin to fully reopen, we expect the number of children coming into foster care to surge. 

But until then, the unthinkable is happening—abuse and neglect is going unreported because we don’t have in person #EyesOnKids. 

I was recently asked what gets me up in the morning and what keeps me going—it’s our 150 plus CASAs that are quite frankly taking personal risks to make sure our kids are safe. When this pandemic started and we went through our first shut down—CASA didn’t close, we didn’t stop. Our office became a distribution and collection site for basic essentials for our foster families—diapers, clothes, wipes, baby food, we even had the elusive toilet paper and sanitizer. When schools closed and life went virtual, we didn’t. We knew someone needed to be having eyes on our kids. And our volunteers stepped up in a big way. They donned their masks and gloves, and came up with creative ways to see our most vulnerable children in person, to make sure they were safe and thriving. And sometimes we have had to fight to ensure our CASAs had access to having eyes on kid—but that’s what we do—we work tirelessly to ensure our children are safe and thriving. 

My ask of you, our communities, is simple. Have the brainstorming conversations in your circle of influence about how to get #EyesOnKids and think outside of the box. Be vigilant. Volunteer with organizations that have ways to see kids in person (socially distanced and masked of course). The options are endless: volunteering to be a CASA, volunteering to meet tangible needs for our children in care and supporting our foster families through our Every Child initiative, volunteering to sit with children after they have been removed from home and while they wait for placement. Call me and I will personally help connect you with the best way to help our kids.

Most importantly, if you have concerns about abuse and neglect of a child, please call the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline at 1-855-503-SAFE. Thank you and have a safe and blessed Holiday season. 

(The mission of CASA is to provide every child in need with trained, volunteer advocates to ensure they are safe, have a permanent home and the opportunity to thrive. For more information on how to get involved in keeping our children safe, please call Shaney Starr at 503-967-6420.)

Shaney Starr, MS, CFRM, is the executive director of CASA of Marion County.