Local advocate fears children will die during COVID-19, but not from the virus

10 On Your Side

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – While children for the most part are not dying or suffering the harshest symptoms of COVID-19, child advocates fear many are at risk of abuse, neglect and long-term trauma.

“My fear is that children are going to die,” said Susan Fincke, Executive Director at Friends of the Portsmouth Juvenile Court, Inc.

Fincke planned a pinwheel garden outside of the Pavilion in Portsmouth as she does every April for Child Abuse Awareness Month.  This year, while fewer will see it, she said the message is more important than ever.

Forty children died of abuse in Virginia in 2018 and 14 were in the Hampton Roads area. Now, with mounting pressure on families due to COVID-19, Fincke fears that number will jump.  She’s afraid  children could be dying now and we won’t know about it for weeks or months.

In Virginia, she said teachers report 25% of suspected abuse to Child Protective Services. “A lot of the responsibility for children is pushed off on the schools, so when school is not there that leaves a huge, huge void,” Fincke said.

10 On Your Side reached out to the Virginia Department of Social Services, and they confirmed one of Fincke’s fears. The agency says it received 1,600 fewer referral calls last month than usual as there are fewer eyes on children to report signs of abuse.

Many risk factors for child abuse are the same as domestic violence: mental illness, family crisis, substance abuse. There are, however, fewer organizations advocating for kids.

“We have to make a particular effort to reach out to people we know that might be experiencing that stress and be tempted to take it out on children and just offer a listening ear,” Fincke told WAVY.com.

If you feel a child is in danger, report it. Child Protective Services is still working.

The hotline is staffed by trained Protective Services Hotline Specialists. Complaints can be submitted by phone to (800) 552-7096 or by email to virginiastatehotline@dss.virginia.gov

If you feel your child is at risk of harm from you or your partner, call a mental health professional or reach out to family, friends or your faith community. 

“Ask for help, please ask for help.”

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