With the April being Child Abuse Prevention Month and all of its various activities, many agencies and organizations are working to raise public awareness of the roles everyone plays in helping young people to have great childhoods.

One of those specific roles is that of mandated reporters.

“Anyone who suspects the abuse or neglect of a child has a moral and ethical responsibility to report it to the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS),” said Arrowleaf CEO Sherrie L. Crabb.

One factor that seems to keep mandated reporters from making those required calls is the sense that it’s “turning people in” and causing families even more stress.

“Rather than approaching mandated reporting as if it is a law enforcement function, it’s a chance help connect a family that is overwhelmed in a way that is adversely affecting the children with resources in a position to help,” Crabb said. “If there are ways to remove the underlying stressors, families are fully capable of correcting course and exercising their own agency. That overloaded car can start moving again and both children and parents can begin to reach their potential.”

There are certain professional roles that are considered mandated reporters and are required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect. That list is extensive, but it includes healthcare professionals, educators and members of law enforcement.

“Every child is filled with tremendous promise and we have a shared obligation to foster that potential,” Crabb said. “Children thrive when they have regular interactions with responsive, caring adults. Without some form of intervention in the lives of children, there are predictable long-term effects on children’s health and development.”

During the last two school years, the impact of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic drastically reduced the amount of interactions children had with responsive, caring adults that they would normally have in school or during athletics and other extracurricular activities.

Even interactions with friends and extended family were severely limited, resulting in increased pressure on parents and caregivers who were already overwhelmed by the weight of employment challenges, family illnesses, staying home to care for their children and other stressors resulting directly from the pandemic.

According to DCFS, hotline calls dropped dramatically beginning in March 2020, presumably due to school closures. This meant fewer interventions with families that could use the extra support.

“Many are surprised to learn that neglect is the most commonly reported form of child maltreatment and is more likely in families that are experiencing an overload of stress,” Crabb said. “The weight of poverty often overloads a caretaker’s ability to provide a child with the nurturing relationship that they need. Depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges can also interfere with a caretaker’s responsiveness to the needs of a child.”

There is a tendency to look at neglect as simply a lack of attention and abuse as “bad parenting,” but it is more complicated than that. For instance, there is historically a correlation between economic recessions and increased instances of abuse and neglect.

“We can think of it like driving a car and adding more and more weight to it,” Crabb added. “Persistent stress overwhelms our ability to manage emotions. It makes it harder for that car to move forward until it eventually breaks down and stops moving altogether.”

Family Advocacy Center (FAC) is one of Arrowleaf’s programs that specifically provides support in situations where DCFS is involved or is likely to be involved.

“The goal of FAC is to help children and their parents or caregivers to stay together,” Crabb explained. “That’s done by strengthening and safeguarding the functioning of families, preventing substitute placement, promoting family reunification, stabilizing foster care placements, facilitating youth development and ensuring the safety and well-being of children. It’s all about building up and restoring that family unit that’s already in place.”

The DCFS hotline number is 800-25-ABUSE (800-252-2873). More information on reporting is available at www.illinois.gov/dcfs.

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