Amid quarantine isolation, suicide numbers are spiking, and children and youth workers fear unreported cases of abuse don’t paint an accurate picture of the struggles area families face.
Child abuse referrals have declined, but this doesn’t mean incidents of abuse have dropped, according to experts such as Matthew Salvatori, assistant director of Lycoming County Children and Youth.
Salvatori’s office received 104 child protective services reports and 90 general protective services referrals in March and April 2019. General abuse reports have dropped by 34% during the same time this year and child protective services referrals are down 52%.
“This reduction in referral numbers is the result of children not interacting with those mandated by state law to report suspected abuse,” according to the office.
Historically, 80% of Lycoming County’s child abuse and neglect referrals come from mandated reporters – teachers or workers in day cares and Head Start programs. In April, referrals by mandated reporters made up only 60% of the total, according to the county children and youth department.
“When children are not in school, day care, Head Start or some other preschool program, not involved in Little League, the Scouts or other organized activities, potential abuse is not being reported,” according to children and youth services.
Salvatori urged families to reach out to children and youth services, especially during stressful times, such as losing a job or financial distress, which can exacerbate abusive situations.
To report abuse and get assistance, call Children and Youth at 570-326-7895 or the Statewide Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-932-0313
“I understand the stress the families are going through … we want to be there to support them,” Salvatori said. “We’d rather be preventive and proactive.”
Salvatori added that no one has to be a mandated reporter to report an incident. He stressed that Children and Youth will first work hard to support and grow the family, rather than remove children from the home.
Suicide rates soar
The effect of stress and uncertainty on mental health also is concerning, according to Keith Wagner, executive director of the Lycoming-Clinton County Joinder.
“People are experiencing uncertainty loss or changes in their routines,” Wagner said, adding it is common for people to feel sad, frustrated, frightened or angry. “Although many of us are able to cope during this time, others are feeling overwhelmed and could use some addiction support.”
During the first four months of 2020, there have been nine suicides, a 125% increase from last year, Wagner said.
Warning signs include talking about suicide or discussing wanting to die, saying things will never get better, experiencing emotional pain and bring withdrawn, anxious or angry, Wagner said. These can often be amplified by the loss of a job, money issues or health issues.
“You are not alone,” Wagner said, encouraging anyone who is struggling to call 570-326-7895 or toll free at 800-525-7938.