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Unifying against child abuse

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the Child Abuse Awareness Committee wants to provide resources to help the community.

The Child Abuse Awareness Committee is composed of various Suffolk departments and organizations including, the Suffolk Department of Social Services, Suffolk’s Early Childhood Development Committee, Healthy Families Suffolk, The Children’s Center and Sentara Obici. These organizations work together to raise awareness of child abuse and promote child abuse prevention.

“Our goal is to raise awareness in communities,” said Shawna LoMonaco, Suffolk’s ECDC coordinator. “We want the community to be aware of interactions and focus on making positive interactions.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic altering everyone’s lives this year, the risk for child abuse has risen. More time with the whole family at home can cause more stress and fewer outlets. The rate of domestic violence has increased, but fewer child abuse cases have been reported. 

“The Early Head Start Program does home visits, and with everyone home all day, parents haven’t had needed support,” said Tami Rittenhouse, Head Start director at The Children’s Center. “They have had no time to themselves to take care of themselves in order to take care of the kids. I’ve met a lot of parents at my job, but I’ve never met a parent who didn’t love their kid and want what was best for them. They just lacked the resources to do so.”

With children virtual learning, they do not get the usual attention from people outside of their home as before. 

“With COVID, many kids don’t have eyes on them,” said Callie Crosson, the family services supervisor of Suffolk’s Child Protective Services Division. “With school being virtual and now hybrid, teachers and counselors haven’t had the contact they usually do to see changes and signs. We want to encourage churches and communities to make these calls.”

The Child Abuse Awareness Committee encourages neighbors and the community to look for signs of possible abuse to report to the Department of Social Services. These signs include always hungry/asking for food; dressing oddly for the season, possibly to cover bruises; physically absent for periods of time; suddenly very withdrawn behavior; poor hygiene that’s inappropriate for their age; regression in daily functions; or cruelty to animals. Child abuse can happen regardless of social standing and occurs on all socioeconomic levels. 

“Families can contact Child Protective Services to get resources to prevent abuse and neglect too, not just when there has been allegations,” said Saniyyah Manigault-Westbrook, assistant director for Suffolk Social Services. 

“Some people are hesitant to call because they are scared their children will be taken from them,” added Beverly McQuarry, with Healthy Families in Suffolk Health Department. “That’s a last resort. All of us want to provide resources to help them keep their children and their family together.”

One of the programs the ECDC uses is a reading challenge with the Suffolk Public Library called Seeds to Sprouts. This reading challenge is for children ages 0 to 8 to read more books and keep track through logging them on Beanstack. Also, the Child Abuse Awareness Committee encourages everyone to wear blue on April 25 for Blue Sunday for Blue Sunday Day of Prayer.

Call the Suffolk hotline, 757-514-7458, or the after hours hotline, 1-800-552-7096, to receive help.