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Prevent Child Abuse Rowan continues to work to ‘keep kids safe’

By Liz Moomey

liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — April is Child Abuse Prevention month, and Prevent Child Abuse Rowan is balancing challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic with continuing to provide services for the county’s youth and their parents.

Beth McKeithan, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Rowan, said their agency is focusing on prevention and education. Kids have been out of school for more than a month and North Carolina residents are ordered to stay at home and practice social distancing when outside.

Generally, there are people outside of the child’s home who is in regular contact with children, McKeithan said. It’s concerning, she said, that kids don’t have that currently, especially for a child abuse prevention organization. In the summer, when school is not in session, the number of child abuse cases reported falls. When school is in session, more cases are reported.

“We’re all afraid we are going to miss these kids somehow,” she said. “The unfortunate part is there’s only so much we can do.”

McKeithan said her organization is working with law enforcement and teachers who may have online contact with the kids to educate them about what they should look for and to follow their gut.

“There is going to be a huge uptick with child abuse cases,” McKeithan said. “It comes out of not only kids being home and not having eyes on them, but decreased income and loss of jobs, that causes an increase in drug and alcohol use.”

Though it may be more difficult to see the signs of child abuse now, McKeithan said, she recommends people to trust their intuition.

We still want to push reporting and how important it is to report,” she said. “All you have to do is have a suspicion. That’s the most important part because then the investigators can step in and do their job to figure if something is going on.”

Child abuse can come different forms: physical, sexual, emotional and neglect.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result of its changes on daily life, parents will lose their cool, McKeithan said. She is particularly concerned about parents multitasking and not supervising their children who may end up getting injured. Parents may be experiencing frustration, boredom or depression and may react, causing injury. Differences in child care is also an issue.

Margaret Stridick, parenting programs coordinator at the Terrie Hess House, has provided resources for parents to help them navigate working from home while kids are at home too.  The Terrie Hess House is posting tips on social media, facebook.com/preventchildabuserowancounty, and their website.

Stridick said one thing that can help parents is to give a child a couple or seconds to a couple of minutes of their undivided attention when their kid wants attention. That tells the child they can get the parent’s attention when they need it. Then, they won’t demand so much of it, she said. Stridick said parents could use a stop light method, where red means do not disturb, yellow is knock and green means it’s OK to come in.

McKeithan said Stridick is a “gold mine” for parenting help and advice. The resources are free.

“You can be an expert in a particular field, like being a lawyer, being a doctor, but that doesn’t make you a child development expert,” Stridick said. “That’s what makes it OK to ask for help, because this is not your place of expertise.”

The Terrie Hess House Parenting site, at thhparenting.org, has parenting programs for all ages. Parents also can call the Stridick’s parenting line at 704-431-2015. The Mecklenburg Heath Department hosts Weekly Triple P tips via Zoom, at 12:30 p.m. on Thursdays using password 178591.

April is the big fundraising month for Prevent Child Abuse Rowan. When schools are back in session, the organization will be “very very busy,” McKeithan said.

Their “Plant Hope” pinwheel kit fundraiser is currently underway. Their annual brunch went virtual earlier this month.

McKeithan said the staff is continuing their work, though mostly working at home to provide educational and prevention materials for Rowan County parents, while helping kids who are abused.

“We’re all in this to keep kids safe,” she said.

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