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Child safety advocate: Amid pandemic, maintain family, social connections

In a guest column, Julia Neighbors, director of Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, urges families to remain connected during this pandemic. Such connections are critical to helping both children and adults get through this stressful time, she says. 

A former senior attorney with the Fulton County Office of the Child, Neighbors contributed to the update of Georgia’s juvenile code and worked with court appointed special advocates around Georgia and community revitalization efforts. PCA Georgia provides statewide direction to build safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments to prevent child abuse and neglect and has more than 20 local councils located throughout the state who advocate and implement prevention practices in their communities

By Julia Neighbors 

For our collective health and well-being we’re staying away from friends, extended family and neighbors; teachers and classmates; and, in many cases, workplaces.  

But these very necessary public health measures are affecting some of the very conditions that help protect children from abuse and neglect at home

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. And this April, it’s more important than ever to make sure we’re strengthening the protective factors that keep kids safe. 

We know that contact with caring adults outside their families can help protect children from abuse and neglect. So can living in a household where parents are employed and able to meet their basic ne. 

More broadly, maintaining social connections and living in a community that supports parents and takes responsibility for child well-being can also help protect children

My colleagues in the child welfare system and others who have professional contact with children are dedicated to keeping kids safe. But in these unprecedented times, we must shore up protective factors even while we’re maintaining physical distance. 

Physical distance does not mean we need to remain socially disconnected or isolated. In fact, individuals, families, and communities can safely maintain the one thing we all need right now…social connections

I encourage all families to make time to connect

Connect with family. Video call family members using your app of choice or go low-tech and page through family photo albums on the couch. 

Connect with friends and neighbors. Go outside and greet passersby from a safe distance or talk to neighbors from afar. Or play an online game with friends. 

Connect with culture. Cook a meal together that reflects your family’s cultural heritage. Or virtually visit more than 1,200 museums around the world via Google Arts Culture. 

Connect with resources. Know where to turn to in times of need. Parents and caregivers can call 1-800-CHILDREN (244-5373) for help finding local supportive programs. 

And parents and caregivers, try to take time to connect with yourself. Whether it’s meditation or yoga, exercising (while keeping a safe distance from others!) or journaling, taking a bath or locking yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes of me-time, you can’t take care of your family if you don’t take care of yourself. 

COVID-19 is challenging the factors that protect children from abuse and neglect in many ways. It’s up to all of us to step up and keep kids safe, while trying to keep our communities healthy. 

Additional Resources: 

For more information on strengthening the factors that protect children from abuse and neglect, visit www.strengtheningfamiliesga.net

For help with parenting support, locating essential resources like food or funds for utilities and rent, or other community resources, call 1-800-CHILDREN (244-5373) or visit www.PCAGeorgiaHelpline.org

For more resources related to supporting families during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the Prevent Child Abuse Georgia COVID-19 webpage.

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