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Maura Guten: Look out for child abuse; reaching out can save a life
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Maura Guten: Look out for child abuse; reaching out can save a life

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As we move into a new year and start to see the dissemination of a vaccine, I have an urgent request of my fellow Tulsans: Please stay vigilant in reporting any suspected child abuse or neglect cases to local authorities or the Child Abuse Hotline.

None of us want to consider the possibility of abuse happening in the homes of our friends, neighbors or, quite frankly, in our community at all. But the harsh reality is that it does and the even harsher reality is that the pandemic has created environments in which child abuse and neglect numbers would reasonably be expected to go up.

Risk factors that lead to child abuse and neglect include financial stress, job loss, economic instability, illness and substance abuse, among others. When considering what our country has experienced this past year, it’s easy to see how these risk factors could affect more families than ever before. Not only that, but one of the primary sources for reporting suspected abuse and neglect are teachers who regularly see children outside of their home environment. But with a vaccine still on the horizon, we know most children are not regularly being seen in person by caring adults outside the home. The combination of these circumstances is not only scary, it’s deadly.

The Child Abuse Network works with specially trained medical professionals as part of our multidisciplinary team approach to child abuse investigations. In an effort to track and understand the impact the pandemic may have, they conducted a study with researchers at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, to determine if child abuse and neglect case filings have been impacted based on forecasted models. The results were published last month in Child Abuse and Neglect.

Using data from the past 10 years of case filings, the team forecast the number of case filings that should have been expected for the months of February through June 2020 in Oklahoma. These forecast values were then compared to actual charges filed for this time period.

What they found was that criminal cases filed between February and June 2020 were 26% lower than what was forecast. All individual months had progressively lower cases than forecast with the exception of March. June had the largest deviation from what was forecasted with 60% fewer cases than predicted.

Clearly, this points to a large discrepancy when we know risk factors for child abuse have increased due to COVID-19, but case filings appear to be declining. While we would love to believe that child abuse incidents are decreasing, it is more likely (and the researchers also concluded this) that fewer cases are being reported. The researchers also concluded, “The results warrant immediate action and further investigation in order to address the dangers this pandemic poses for children in abusive situations.”

We partnered with Tulsa Area United Way, The Parent Child Center and Family and Children’s Services this summer to launch the Look Out, Reach Out campaign. The goal was to educate the community, especially essential workers and service providers who may still have contact with children, to recognize the signs of abuse or neglect and alert the appropriate authorities.

We’re asking you to please continue in this effort by familiarizing yourself with the warning signs that you can find at lookoutreachout.net to be able to identify any red flags with children you may have contact.

If you suspect something or just feel a family may be struggling and could benefit from local resources or help, please reach out. Reports to the Child Abuse Hotline, 800-522-3511, are anonymous and simply allow authorities to check on the welfare of children in a particular residence.

The more we can identify and support the most vulnerable in our community, the stronger we are as a whole.

To learn more about the Child Abuse Network, or for additional resources, please visit childabusenetwork.org.

Maura Guten is CEO of Tulsa’s Child Abuse Network.


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Maura Guten is CEO of Tulsa’s Child Abuse Network.

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