We Are All in This Together

As a global pandemic spikes, a quiet epidemic is occurring behind closed doors

Why childhood trauma demands attention now more than ever

By Alana Walczak

Across the U.S. and the globe, individuals are struggling to adapt to a new reality of stay-at-home mandates, social distancing and self-isolation.

Family dynamics are tested in close quarters while financial insecurities bring a significant layer of stress and anxiety. Yet, for many American children, circumstances of trauma and abuse/neglect preexisted the pandemic. In the United States, 2.9 million cases of child abuse are reported every year.

Not only do children absorb the growing family and societal fears, but high levels of tension put them at greater risk. As a pandemic grows outside our walls, there is a quiet epidemic happening behind closed doors.

Studies show that child abuse and domestic violence are directly linked to increased stress levels. Right now, there are many additional stressors in families lives. Families are strapped with fears of financial instability, food and job insecurity, confined living circumstances, the challenges of juggling work and childrearing responsibilities, and rising pandemic fears as the virus hits closer to home.

We see that playing out in real time, right here at home as the Santa Barbara County Sheriff announced recently that reports of domestic violence and incidents were up.

And even in safe and loving households, the implementation of social distancing measures and greatly reduced social contact can take a serious toll on any parent.

Here are some helpful strategies that can help to support all families right now:

  • Make a list of supportive people to have regular check-ins with via phone or video chat. Talk about your experiences and share your feelings with loved ones and friends.
  • Relax your body often by doing things that work for you-take deep breaths, stretch, meditate or pray, or engage in activities you enjoy.
  • Take breaks outside, keeping social distancing in mind. Go for a family walk together before or after dinner.
  • Pace yourself between stressful activities and do something fun after a hard task.
  • Set aside your phones, tablets and TVs for quality screen-free time with your children.
  • Maintain a regular and consistent routine at bedtime
  • Make a conscious effort to choose healthier snacks with a nutritional boost
  • Turn off the news and take breaks from social media
  • Schedule “me” time with free videos available for guided mediation and exercise.
  • Maintain a sense of hope and positivity. We are all in this together.

 In addition, here are some essential online resources adapted for pandemic circumstances:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline is providing these tips: Staying safe During Covid-19. You can also refer or request support via the Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
  • Santa Barbara County-based CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), providing evidence-based prevention and treatment services for 50 years, is continuing counseling sessions via phone or video conferencing.  You can refer or request services via CALM4kids.org or 805-965-2376.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued practical strategies of self-care and connection with others.
  • If you need to report incidents of abuse contact Child Welfare Services at 1-800-367-0166 (to report child abuse) or 1-844-751-6729 (to report elder abuse)

The world is experiencing a seismic shift in routines, health and household realities.  In many cases, these changes are exasperating preexisting trauma in the home. Now is the time to reach out to each other and those in acute crisis and put tools and resources to work.

Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support.