The cases of parents and caregivers self-referred to entities seeking help in the face of vulnerability to incurring acts of abuse and domestic violence have increased during the last six months, according to organizations specialized in providing services.
At Escape, the main private entity in the prevention and intervention of child abuse and family violence in Puerto Rico, it was assured that they have experienced a 54% increase in so-called self-referred cases. They are parents and caregivers who have admitted to having engaged in violent behavior with their children or who have lost control in managing their emotions during the Covid-19 emergency.
The change in family routine due to the pandemic and the challenges that have been added – whether due to job loss, quarantine periods, children at home due to closed schools and the reduction of activities outside the home – have partly framed the incidents, said the specialists interviewed.
Yadira Pizarro, director of Escape, an entity that has been operating for 37 years, said that the increase in cases “is dramatic” and is added as one more emergency with great social repercussions in the present and the future if it is not adequately addressed.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen increases in these adults who seek help because they are losing control, and they are not being able to handle situations without losing patience in family dynamics,” said Pizarro. He added that “there are many stressors, employment situations, and it is not the same for children to be at school for several hours than when they are at home.”
He explained that observing that parents or caregivers are acknowledging the situation and that they do not want to lead to major incidents requires determination and that is not always the case. “What this shows is the need for there to be alternatives for women and men who feel they can call free of charge to receive tools, and in initial cases with two or three interventions they can handle the problem,” she said.
He commented that at Escape at present they provide psychological services to an average of 250 people per week. “This significant increase worries us,” he said.
Marcos Santana, from the Network for the Rights of the Child, which offers services to shelters for victims of abuse and gender violence, among others, affirmed that there is an increased incidence of situations in families and they are seeking help.
“Since the pandemic was declared, we have raised the alert. Stress levels and the incidence of violence have risen. We have grandparents raising minors, young people displaced due to sexual orientation, others were left on the street due to the closure of accommodations, we have calls from heads of families without resources. All of this generates anxiety and situations arise ”, explained Santana.
For her part, Yesenia Delgado, from the Institute for Youth Development, said the situation is very serious and requires immediate attention. “There have always been vulnerable populations, but the Covid-19 situation has exacerbated these situations. We want to know where they are and who they are, and what is being done with them ”, stated Delgado.
Just yesterday afternoon the institute gave the final touches to the symposium “Vulnerable Populations and Covid-19: strategies to make visible and intervene”, which will be held virtually this Friday and Saturday. Delgado explained that the event arose precisely because of the need expressed by the families.
Adfan asks for cases to be referred
In contrast to the records in Escape and other entities, data from the Department of the Family shows a reduction in reported cases. Specialists attribute this to the fact that schools and places of social interaction – where a considerable number of mistreatment or abuse situations that reach the Family are usually identified – have not been operating.
Glenda Gerena Ríos, in charge of the Administration for Families and Children (Adfan), clarified that the numbers do not mean that abuse has been reduced, but that they are not being reported due to the current situation. She mentioned that among the group of referrals they also receive are the so-called self-referrals. “In those we intervene, those with the highest incidence are negligence,” he specified.
He reported that between March 15 and September 20, 4,615 referrals have been registered, which shows a decrease of 60% in reported cases when compared to the same period in 2019, when there were 7,759 referrals.
“Faced with the barriers (due to the Covid-19 situation), let’s not let children continue to suffer in silence. Now the cases (reported in Adfan) are fewer, but the ones that we have dealt with are more severe ”, said the official. He said that since not all the cases arrive as before, those that are reported in the middle of the pandemic are those that have already reached higher levels of abuse and violence.
More action for Christmas
Family service groups warned that the projection for December is that abuse incidents may be exacerbated, since it is the time when there are more cases of depression and the factor of greater consumption of alcoholic beverages joins. “This pandemic will be with us for a long time and Christmas is a complicated time, both due to the mistreatment of minors and gender violence. We are very concerned, ”said Pizarro.
The director of Escape indicated that we must stop believing that referring cases to the Department of the Family means that the children will be removed from the home. She urged people to point out the cases and commented that for every reported abused minor, there may be two that are never reported.
“As long as the cases are not dealt with in time, later the emotional damage can range from mild to severe, leading to other complex social situations,” he added.
The director of Adfan assured that there are services for families. “There are many minors who could be suffering in silence. We make this call to the neighbors, to the relatives, that if there is a child who is being a victim, they communicate with the agency ”, he stressed.