Advocates concerned child abuse going unreported with schools closed

The overriding public health advice is to stay at home, where it is safest. But for far too many Canadian children, home means facing a different danger altogether.

Family members are responsible for nearly a third of all violence against children and youth. With schools closed for weeks now, there are fears about what might be happening to at-risk kids who now have nowhere to escape to.

Chanice McAnuff has an insight into just how high the stakes are -- she escaped an abusive home when she was a child.

Now a psychology major at university, she is raising the alarm on behalf of children who can’t.

She told CTV News that what frightens her is the thought of “what’s happening behind closed doors.

“School was definitely a getaway place for me,” she said. “Home was not a safe place.”

McAnuff was rescued with the help of police and her school, which are the two agencies that most often warn children’s aid about potential abuse.

“There is an acute concern happening right now [because] … the eyes of the community are not on our children in the way that they used to be before the state of emergency was called,” said Nicole Bonnie, CEO of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies.

There has been a staggering 40-per-cent reduction in calls to the Children’s Society compared to last year.

“With children not being in classrooms, we are certainly seeing a reduction in referrals from schools and school boards,” Bonnie told CTV News.

There is a narrow window into a child’s home life that teachers can still peer through: virtual classrooms. And children's aid agencies are handing out hundreds of electronic lifelines to keep children connected with those outside of their home.

“We have been able to provide families with iPads, with cellphones in order to support them, [to] mitigate risk,” said Bonnie, stressing that they want to be able to communicate with at-risk children.

Meanwhile, some agencies, such as Dnaagdawenmag Binnoojiiyag Child & Family Services, which focuses on protecting Indigenous youth, are re-working how they do their jobs.

“At the beginning of the pandemic measures, we went to virtual ways of connecting, as well as through windows, through doors, in driveways, in yards,” executive director Amber Crowe told CTV News.

“But now we are reinstating in-person services on a wider basis and we are having to use PPE in some circumstances.”

Ontario announced today that it would be expanding online mental health services, including the national Kids Help Phone line, which has seen a 400 percent increase in calls since the pandemic began.

The number to call Kids Help Phone is 1-800-668-6868. 

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