Officials concerned pandemic may result in increased child abuse, but Summit County’s Children’s Justice Center remains ready to help
Where to report
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or child maltreatment, there are numerous options available, including:
• Park City Police Department, 435-615-5500
• Summit County Sheriff’s Office, 435-615-3500
• Division of Child and Family Services hotline, 855-323-3237
• Peace House, 800-647-9161
If you have questions or would like further guidance, contact Summit County Attorney’s Office investigator Dr. Christina Sally at 435-615-3829. For victim advocate questions or to request more resources, call Victim Advocate Director Megan Galati at 435-615-3851.
For more information, visit the Summit County Children’s Justice Center online at summitcounty.org/593/Childrens-Justice-Center.
As the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting social isolation continues, Summit County authorities are reaching out to residents to ensure they are safe in their homes. While adults are likely to know what to do if they feel they need help, what avenues are available to children who are being mistreated or abused?
In Summit County, they and their advocates can turn to the local Children’s Justice Center, which provides services to children who have been victimized by abuse.
Ted Walker, director of the Summit County CJC, said the center has had to make adjustments as a result of the pandemic but he stressed it is still open and available to help.
“We put into place an emergency protocol early on to ensure that children are able to be interviewed and parents have their questions answered and have access to services, while not putting them or our multi-disciplinary team members at more risk for being exposed to COVID-19,” he said. “Interviews are happening, people are talking with victim advocates and other services are accessible although in a different way.
“The protocol put in place ensures that none of the victims that would normally be interviewed at the Children’s Justice Center will be turned away.”
Walker said the CJC is taking additional safety measures to ensure those who do come to the center are safe, from putting hand sanitizer at the entrance to requiring daily reporting by staff of any symptoms they or members of their family are experiencing. One thing the center needs more of, however, is masks. Walker said anyone who has masks to spare can call the CJC at 435-615-3910 and arrange to donate them.
Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson said the combination of isolation and added stress increase the likelihood of domestic violence and child maltreatment. For one, she said, it hinders the ability of victims to reach out to trusted friends and family for help.
“One of the hallmarks of domestic violence is a perpetrator’s attempt at control over a victim, particularly from contacting outside resources,” Olson said. “Close quarters and constant presence of the perpetrator can exacerbate this.”
Whether victims themselves or just witnesses to abuse, children, like spouses and partners, are at greater risk.
“Children may witness or experience more maltreatment due to family stress and child’s increased proximity to an abuser,” Olson said. “Further, a child’s trusted adult, such as teachers, counselors, coaches and activities coordinators are not there for children to disclose or to have them recognize potential signs of child maltreatment.”
Child abuse, Olson said, knows no socioeconomic, cultural or religious boundaries. It can occur even in the best of times. But added stressors do increase the likelihood of abuse. And some of that potential abuse comes from outside the home, thanks to the isolation of a stay-at-home order.
“Children are more vulnerable to child exploitation by online predators as they spend more time on their computers and social media,” Olson said.
While the coronavirus pandemic makes it more difficult to detect domestic violence or child maltreatment, Olson said her office is encouraging Summit County residents to be vigilant, to “see it, hear it, report it.”
“The Summit County CJC and Victim Advocate’s Office are open and serving victims and families,” she said. “We need community members and our community partners to reach out to potentially at-risk children and families to check in. Those trusted adults can act as a support system for those children and families as well as report anything suspicious.”
Olson said kids need to let authorities know if they encounter anything suspicious online, as well.
“We also encourage children and teens to report to their trusted adults if they are involved in social media or other conversations or image sharing that are sexual, exploiting, threatening, confusing, alarming, intimidating or frightening,” she said. “Also, if a young person knows a friend may be sharing inappropriate information with an unknown person or adult, please talk to a trusted adult about your friend and report it to law enforcement. We have to help each other stay safe.”
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