Working Group: International Scholars Protecting Children from Maltreatment during COVID-192022-05-31T13:53:50-06:00

Working Group:

INTERNATIONAL SCHOLARS PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM MALTREATMENT DURING COVID-19

Purpose

This international group of scholars was established in April 2020, shortly after COVID-19 was acknowledged as a pandemic. Comprised of more than 30 leading scholars from more than 12 countries from all world regions, the group has completed multiple international projects and is working on several new ones related to what we know and are learning continually about the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable children worldwide.

Convener: Carmit Katz, Tel Aviv University

Our Work

Child Maltreatment Reports and CPS Responses

Background: COVID-19 has significantly disrupted the operations of Child Protection Services (CPS) and the general social safety net for violence prevention in many countries. Impacts include concerns of underreporting and increased risk of child abuse and neglect, as well as challenges in operating CPS and keeping their workforce safe.

Method: Information was gathered from researchers in eight countries, including contextual information about the country’s demographics and economic situation, key elements of CPS, and the CPS response to COVID-19. Where available, information about other factors affecting children was also collected. These data informed a discussion regarding between-country similarities and differences.

Results: COVID-19 had a significant impact on the operation of the CPS, whether in high- or low-income countries. Service disruption was universal. The current analysis identified significant and escalating risks for children, substantial deficits in CPS responses, and a decrease in CM reports despite increased risks to children.

Conclusions: The initial data presented and discussed among the international team pointed to the ways that COVID-19 has dramatically hampered CPS responses and, in general, the protection of children. The findings highlight that children are at a greater risk for maltreatment during COVID-19.

Child Maltreatment in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Proposed Global Framework on Research, Policy and Practice

Background: Child protection has been and will continue to be drastically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Comprehending this new reality and identifying research, practice and policy paths are urgently needed.

Objective: The current paper suggests a framework for risk and protective factors that need to be considered in the various domains of child protection, including research, policy, and practice, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Strategy: As a result of an international collaboration involving researchers and child protection professionals from eight countries, the current paper examines various factors that have been identified as playing an essential role in the child protection system.

The initial suggested framework: Through the use of an ecological framework, the current paper identifies risk and protective factors that require further exploration. Key conclusions call attention to the importance of addressing the protection of children during this time of a worldwide pandemic. Discussion of risk and protective factors is significantly influenced by each country’s societal context, which emphasizes the importance of international collaboration in the protection of children, particularly during a worldwide pandemic.

Conclusion: The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed the imperative necessity of expanding both theory and practice to ensure children’s rights to safety and security. In this light, the suggested framework has the potential to advance these efforts so that children will be better protected from maltreatment amidst a pandemic in the future.

Frontline Practitioners’ Experiences and Perceptions on Protecting Children from Maltreatment During COVID-19

The project was guided by the following research question: What is the interplay between the experiences and perspectives of professionals engaged in child welfare and their resilience pathways? To answer this question, ISPCC developed a survey that aims to gain insight into how COVID-19 has affected frontline workers worldwide who have been working with children during the pandemic. Specifically, we wanted to 1) shed light on what’s happening on the frontlines of child protection; 2) identify gaps between country policies and actual practices; 3) compare policies across countries; and 4) identify what professionals want and need to work effectively.

The survey included 112 items related to knowledge of COVID-19 policies and impact; the resources and support available to practitioners at work and home; what resources/support practitioners think would be helpful; and the effects of COVID on child protection professionals and how they are coping. Results from this survey and the subsequent focus groups will be presented in webinars in June and July 2022.

Framework: The Effects of COVID-19 on Risk Factors for Child Maltreatment

Background: The reality that COVID-19 has created for countries worldwide is challenging the way children can be protected from maltreatment. Along with increased physical and mental health risks for children, parents, families and communities, a worrisome decline in the rates of child maltreatment reports in many countries indicates the urgent need to enhance child protection during this time.

In a discussion paper, the group identified several risk factors, among them, children with developmental disabilities, preschoolers, and gender. The group also discussed three core factors that appear extremely relevant to those risks on the social-structural level: policy (inadequate policy development and implementation or lack of policy), racism, and poverty. These findings conclude that the deficits in child protection during routine times will only be exacerbated during a worldwide crisis, such as the current pandemic, unveiling the existing gaps in our understanding of child protection systems and multisystemic issues relating to child protection.

Moreover, the proposed framework emphasizes that the social isolation and economic crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic have a high potential to exacerbate existing social, economic, and health inequities, amplifying racism and discrimination towards various disadvantaged groups worldwide. The discussion of the various child risk factors heightened during a pandemic such as COVID-19 has made the group members focus on further advancing our knowledge on the ways that children from diverse vulnerable and disadvantaged contexts can be further protected. Guided by the framework of intersectionality, the current project will explore and deconstruct factors that are essential to facilitate the protection of vulnerable children, as well as identify barriers that exacerbate the children’s vulnerabilities at the socio-structural level.

The concept of intersectionality is rooted in Black feminism and Critical Race Theory. It analyzes the interlocking ways in which social structures (e.g., notions of family, economy, class, etc.) produce and entrench power relations, inequities, and marginalization. Intersectionality invites critical reflections on how structures of oppression are related and, therefore, how struggles are linked. For example, how aspects such as gender, class, race, religion, age and disability overlap to create different types of discrimination and privilege.

Upcoming: Children and Youth-In-Care Project

Over the past few months, COVID-19 and its impact have dramatically affected many aspects of life and caused the protection of children to become extremely challenging. As the public’s gaze is focused on the urgent health crisis, many children are at risk due to social isolation and reduced social service activities. Scholars worldwide argue that children are currently at a heightened risk of maltreatment due to increased rates of poverty, food insecurity, unemployment, and inequalities (Fore, 2020; Van der Berg & Spaull, 2020). It has also been suggested that while child maltreatment (CM) is on the rise, children are also isolated from adults outside of their family who provide care and support as well as those responsible for reporting maltreatment (Humphreys, Myint, & Zeanah, 2020).

Children and youth around the world who currently live in out-of-home placements might be at an exceptionally high risk of being negatively affected due to COVID-19 as they are often dependent on the policies their government chooses to adopt. Some countries, such as Israel, initially neglected to address the issue of children at-risk altogether and declared social workers to be ‘unessential workers’ (Katz & Cohen, 2020). Other countries adopted different and often opposing approaches. For example, the U.S.A. executed a rapid return-to-home policy that was hastily done without proper preparation or follow-up of the children and their families (Wilke et al., 2020). It seems that most other countries implemented lockdowns, to varying degrees, with some children being sent back to their home communities due to practical considerations, such as overcrowded facilities (Grupper et al., 2020).‏ South Africa, for example, implemented a total lockdown of children in residential care and suspended visits (Fouche et al., 2020).

It is crucial to explore the consequences of policies implemented as a result of COVID-19. Namely, the policies related to the trend of deinstitutionalization, on the one hand, and the advancement of policies regarding alternative care as well as programs and services aimed to assist youth who are aging out of care that were brought to a halt, on the other hand. The implications of the rushed development and implementation of COVID-19 related policies on children, child protection professionals and organizations have yet to be explored.

Thus, the proposed research aims to examine, map out and characterize public policies regarding children and youth in out-of-home placements and related organizations from both a global and macro-level perspective.

ISPCAN/ISPCC Webinars

MEMBERS, ACCESS OUR ENTIRE COVID-19 WEBINAR SERIES HERE

Key Resources/Research

Connect with ISPCAN Members

CLICK HERE TO VIEW/SEARCH THE ISPCAN MEMBER DIRECTORY