MANCHESTER — The financial and emotional stress placed on families during the COVID-19 epidemic is expected to lead to a dramatic rise in child abuse and neglect cases in New Hampshire. CASA of NH, a non-profit organization that trains volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children, is preparing by recruiting new volunteers and adding new, virtual training classes to have CASA advocates ready when the COVID-19 crisis abates.
According to Marcia Sink, CEO of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of NH, the pandemic is creating a worst-case scenario for vulnerable children. “Parents are under tremendous stress and are now with their children 24/7. Social distancing limits the support available to parents, as well as the eyes on the children to spot and report signs of abuse. It’s a potential recipe for disaster,” she comments.
Sink says that child abuse or neglect is significantly under-reported while families are sheltering at home during the pandemic. In the last two weeks of March, New Hampshire’s Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) posted a 50% decline in child abuse reports from pre-pandemic levels. Children are no longer at schools, daycare or other locations where caring individuals would be able to spot signs of abuse. “Every adult in New Hampshire is mandated to report suspicions of child abuse to DCYF at (800) 894-5533 or (603) 271-6562. We are joining with other organizations to get the word out about the importance of reporting now, and we are seeking more volunteers for the surge of abuse and neglect cases we are expecting later this year,” Sink explains.
Trained CASA volunteers work with children in the child welfare system who have already experienced abuse or neglect. Typically, CASA volunteers meet with children in person at least monthly, and provide information to help judges make the most well-informed decisions about each child. In the current environment, volunteers are in touch with their CASA children more frequently using creative ways to connect through virtual means and communicate vital information to New Hampshire’s court system during telephonic court hearings.
“We remain focused on supporting New Hampshire’s abused and neglected children and making a real difference in their lives,” says Sink. “We need volunteers now more than ever and encourage all community members to join with us either by volunteering or by helping us ensure children are safe during this time of national crisis.”
Virtual training classes for new volunteers are being held in May, July and August. CASA expects in-person training to be offered in Fall 2020. To learn more, visit www.casanh.org/volunteer.