COVID crisis could invite child abuse

By Celeste Neumann • Hoke Cooperative Extension • During this quarantine, entire families are sheltering at home, often in close quarters. Anxiety about health, education, and finances is high. Children aren’t seeing the teachers, counselors and other adults who would normally raise concerns about their well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic has created the conditions for a rise in child abuse that could go unchecked.

April is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention month. As we all know, our future relies on the healthy growth and development of today’s children. As adults, we are responsible for ensuring all children have the safe, stable, nurturing, and healthy environments they need to thrive.

Childhood is a critical stage for brain development, especially early childhood ages (0-5 years) During this period 90 percent of the brain’s growth occurs. When children have supportive, loving relationships with adults their brain architecture is built in a healthy way, forming a solid foundation for future growth and development.

On the other hand, child abuse and neglect impedes the development of healthy brain architecture.  Strong, frequent, or prolonged activation of a person’s stress response system is often referred to as toxic stress. When a child experiences toxic stress harmful chemicals flood the child’s brain and body resulting in long-term damaging effects. Studies suggest that the more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) a child faces, the more likely the child will become an adult with poor physical and mental health, more likely to experience emotional problems such as depression and anxiety, more likely to be involved in abusive relationships, risky behavior, substance abuse, eating disorders and even future traumatic events.

But why would someone hurt a child? There’s no simple answer that will help explain why some parents or adults abuse children. As with many things, the factors that lead to child abuse are complex and often related to other issues.  However, there are certain factors that can increase a person’s risk of abusing a child. These may include:

•History of child abuse or neglect during their own childhood

•Having a substance use disorder

•Physical or mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

•Socioeconomic stress from financial issues, unemployment, or medical problems, etc.

•A lack of parenting skills and poor understanding about basic childhood development.

•A lack of support from family members, friends, neighbors, or the community.

•Caring for a child with intellectual or physical disabilities that make adequate care more challenging.

•Family stress or crisis caused by domestic violence, separation, or divorce, etc.

Parents As Teachers is a free and voluntary program that is available to all families with children ages 0-5 who live in Hoke County.  Parent educators, both English and Spanish speaking, are available to help you be your child’s first, best and most influential teacher.  If you are interested in the Parents As Teachers program, call (910) 875-2000 or email Celeste Neumann at

Parents As Teachers is funded by Smart Start and administered by Hoke County Cooperative Extension