Local agency leaders say help is available as virus situation boosts stress

The current stay-at-home situation has forced the cancellation of planned events in April to promote Child Abuse Prevention Month.

And yet that situation makes the message itself even more important, leaders of several local agencies said.

“During a typical April, Prevent Child Abuse Steuben organizes events to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month,” said Laura Rossman of Pro Action of Steuben and Yates; Harmony Ayers-Friedlander of Family Service Society; Jackie Woollett of Institute for Human Services and the 2-1-1 Helpline; and Bill Caudill of the Steuben County Youth Bureau, in a joint letter to The Leader.

“As with everything else in the spring of 2020, COVID-19 had other plans,” the letter states. “But the important work of child abuse prevention cannot be put on hold, especially now.”

They said the current circumstances are putting even more strain on families, some of whom were already facing tough situations.

“With the added stress of income loss, food insecurity and social isolation, the risk of child maltreatment intensifies,” the group said. “Coping with change, stress and uncertainty can be exhausting. Children may act out in response to their own stress and sadness over changed routines and loss of connections and activities.”

They said their organizations and others are available to work through that stress, and help address the problems that may be causing it.

“Pro Action and its partners want everyone, and parents in particular, to know that we are here for you during these uncertain times,” Rossman said. “Stress can have a ripple effect and put a real strain on families. You don't have to go it alone. Your community is here for you."

The group also stressed that friends, family and neighbors can play a role.

“Everyone can make great childhoods happen, even if they aren’t actively parenting,” the letter stated. “If you know a parent, you can be part of their vital support system during this stressful time. Reach out and ask if they have everything they need. Offer to bring them supplies when you can do it safely. Listen. Empathize. Reassure them that deep breathing really does have a calming effect. Most of all, remind them of all the challenges they’ve surmounted in the past.”

They also pointed to important resources available to families facing stress and challenges:

“For more ways that you can help, go to https://www.preventchildabuseny.org/support-parents and follow Prevent Child Abuse Steuben on Facebook for daily tips.

“If you are a parent who could use a supportive relationship, Pro Action’s Resilient Children and Families team may be able to enroll you in services now. Call 607-776-2125 and you will be put in touch with a referral assistant.

“If fear, worry or sadness are interfering with your daily functioning, the strongest thing you can do is get help. Family Service Society is offering free short-term counseling by phone or video, depending on client preference. Just call 607-962-3148.

“If you are unsure of the kind of service that could help you or a loved one, call 2-1-1. Call specialists there will listen and direct you to relevant services.

“Call the New York State Parent Helpline at 1-800-CHILDREN (244-5373) to be connected with local services.”

And perhaps most importantly: “If you suspect child abuse, call the child abuse hotline at 800-342-3720.”