Experts fear increase in child abuse and decline in mental health as coronavirus pandemic persists

April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month. (Community Impact Staff)
April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month. (Community Impact Staff)

April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month. (Community Impact Staff)

Experts are seeing fewer cases of child abuse reported during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, that does not indicate a decrease in domestic abuse, but only that there is a lack of interaction with the adults that report the abuse for children who cannot speak for themselves.

“We’ve lost our very best front-line responders and reporters of abuse: teachers,” said Trendy Sharp, Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Comal County (CAC), in an email.

According to Sharp, CAC received 152 reports of abuse in March 2020, representing a decrease of 25% compared to March last year when 202 reports were made.


“While most schools have moved toward a virtual homeschool approach and teachers are certainly working hard and are involved in that process, they are not with children all day long, working with them and seeing them day in and day out as they usually are,” Sharp said.


CAC aids children who have experienced physical or sexual abuse by providing counseling, forensic interviewing and coordination with local authorities. Prevention efforts are performed through a partnership with the organization Darkness to Light.

In Texas, 175 children are the victims of abuse every day and 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18, according to statistics from the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas.

With 7.4 million children residing in Texas, this would amount to 740,000 victims of child abuse – without a global pandemic increasing risk factors.

“Whenever kids are not in school or with other adults outside the home, we see reports go down but we know that the abuse is still happening, if not increasing in incidence and severity,” said Christina Green of the CAC of Texas.

According to Green, the impacts of the coronavirus are not just economic or physical, they take their toll on families and heighten stress.

This added stress, she said, can lead to more instances of abuse as parents and family members grapple with becoming teachers as well as caregivers amid potential financial instability.

In the case of sexual abuse, 98% of children know their abuser and 83% are abused by a relative, according to statistics from the CAC.

“While the stay at home recommendations from the CDC and from Governor Abbott are essential and necessary to preserve life and safety, this also means that many children are locked into a home with the very people that might abuse them,” Sharp said.

Mental health support

One of the driving factors experts believe could contribute to increases in child abuse during the coronavirus pandemic is the mental and physical stress experienced by both adults and children.

“We’re worried about the mental health side of [the pandemic] as well,” said Ellie Truan, a prevention specialist with the Crisis Center of Comal County. “It’s really important for [parents] to be having conversations with their kids and talking to them about how they’re feeling.”

The Crisis Center offers a 24/7 crisis hotline as well as a shelter, counseling, support groups and prevention education for the community and students.

Currently, the center's counseling services are being conducted through telehealth options. The shelter and emergency response team are still operating and have taken precautions that include extensive cleaning, and monitoring of each person that enters the facility.

Truan oversees the center’s prevention program where she and trained specialists and therapists teach students and families about healthy emotional expression, coping skills, creating boundaries and how to maintain healthy relationships.

“The most important relationship we have is the one we have with ourselves,” Truan said. “We have to start there as an individual because it reflects into our relationships and decision making.”

Though in-person classes are currently on hold, Truan and her team are working to adapt their lessons to an online format through YouTube and Facebook.

Dr. Heather Ingram, PsyD, BCN from InMindOut Emotional Wellness Center in New Braunfels shared how social distancing, lack of structure and stressors like job loss or financial instability have already contributed to increased anxiety in many of her patients.

“We’re used to being connected to people on a regular basis and we have all of a sudden, as a complete society, taken that away from people,” Ingram said.

Ingram and her colleagues at InMindOut have transitioned to video and telephone sessions and have created a blog with suggestions and answers to frequently asked questions about life during social distancing.

According to Ingram, it is important for individuals and families to care for themselves emotionally, create a support network (albeit a remote one), build a schedule and communicate openly with each other.

“Having a support network is incredibly important,” Ingram said. “There really needs to be giving to self first, putting that oxygen mask on [yourself] first in terms of mental and emotional care.”

For parents and caregivers, taking care of yourself emotionally and physically allows you to better love and care for those around you, especially during seasons of high stress Ingram said.

“It’s not if it gets tough, it’s when it gets tough,” Ingram said. “Take things minute-by-minute and just do the next right thing, that’s all you can do.”



Helpful tips


With children not seeing teachers, sports coaches, medical professional or other trusted adults outside of their home, Green said she is asking teachers to utilize video conferencing to look for signs of abuse, and for neighbors and community members to pay close attention to children either in their homes or who they see from a distance.


Though schools and many public offices are closed, help lines are still available and community members are encouraged to continue to utilize these resources.

“Despite the fact that we have a global health crisis and pandemic happening right now—and child abuse feels a world away—it is always raging in the background,” Green said.

Here are a few indicators of child abuse to keep in mind, provided by the CAC of Texas.


  • Unexplained injuries

  • Lack of personal care or hygiene

  • Fear of certain places or people

  • Risk taking behaviors


The local abuse reporting hotline is 800-252-5400.

More child abuse prevention and awareness resources can be found the websites of CAC of Texas, CASA, Connections Individual and Family Services, and CAC of Comal County.

For mental health support, contact River City Advocacy & Counseling Center, call the Texas Health and Human services COVID-19 support line at 833-986-1919 or visit the Texas Health and Human Services website.

Lauren Canterberry - Ali Linan



MOST RECENT

The Austin-based eatery's menu is inspired by Nashville hot chicken; offerings include chicken bites, jumbo tenders, chicken sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, collard greens and homemade pies. (Courtesy Tumble 22)
Nashville-style hot chicken restaurant coming to Round Rock and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from Central Texas.

Here are the coronavirus updates you need to know in New Braunfels. (Community Impact staff)
Comal County reports 220th coronavirus-related death as local hospitalizations remain high

Since Jan. 11, Comal County has reported 34 new coronavirus-related deaths and 533 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, bringing the total cases to 7,327.

Feeding Texas hosted a Jan. 19 webinar to discuss legislative highlights for the 87th Texas Legislature. (Screenshot courtesy Feeding Texas)
Food insecurity in Texas' 87th Legislature: Hunger relief organization Feeding Texas to propose legislation addressing hunger

Hunger relief organization Feeding Texas hosted a webinar Jan. 19 to discuss increasing funding and accessibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the 87th legislative session.

COVID-19 vaccines
DATA: Texas has vaccinated about 9% of estimated Phase 1 recipients

Over 1.1 million individuals from the Phase 1 population, which is estimated to include 13.5 million individuals total, have received at least one dose.

Bob Popinski, policy director of Raise Your Hand Texas, shared the organization's top education priorities for the ongoing legislative session. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
‘What does virtual learning and remote learning look like moving forward?': Raise Your Hand Texas policy director talks legislative priorities

Bob Popinski is the director of policy for Raise Your Hand Texas, an Austin-based organization committed to improving public education. He spoke with Community Impact Newspaper in late December about the 87th legislative session, which began Jan. 12.

Dr. Judith L. Thompson, a prominent surgeon in New Braunfels, said she is seeking to make sure people stay calm while awaiting information about incoming COVID-19 vaccines. (Courtesy Dr. Judith L. Thompson)
‘It’s a very challenging situation’: Prominent New Braunfels doctor seeks to inform community on lack of COVID-19 vaccines

Dr. Judith L. Thompson, a general surgeon and an advocate for the profession of medicine who works in the New Braunfels area, said she understands that just about everyone in the community has urgent questions about how and when to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

Construction on Morningside Drive in New Braunfels has been ongoing for nearly a year and is expected to continue for several months with new detours taking effect next week. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
New Morningside Drive detours to take effect in New Braunfels on Jan. 18

Construction on Morningside Drive in New Braunfels has been ongoing for nearly a year and is expected to continue for several months with new detours taking effect next week.

City officials broke ground at the site of the new police headquarters Jan. 14. (Courtesy city of New Braunfels)
New Braunfels breaks ground on $36 million police HQ

A new 65,000-square-foot, $36.3 million New Braunfels Police Department headquarters facility is officially on its way to construction.

Michael Meek, Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, and New Braunfels ISD Superintendent Randy Moczygemba announced their plans to retire this year. (Courtesy the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce/New Braunfels Independent School District)
Chamber president, NBISD superintendent join list of retiring New Braunfels leaders

Michael Meek is the latest addition to the growing list of New Braunfels leaders who have recently announced their retirement—a group whose ranks also include New Braunfels ISD Superintendent Randy Moczygemba, New Braunfels Police Chief Tom Wibert and Assistant Police Chief Joe Vargas.

H-E-B is preparing to accept coronavirus vaccine appointments through an online portal. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
H-E-B launches vaccine portal; Whipped Bakery opens in Leander and more top Central Texas news

Read the most popular news from the past week from the Central Texas area.