Protecting Children From Abuse And Neglect During A Pandemic | New Hampshire Public Radio

Protecting Children From Abuse And Neglect During A Pandemic

Apr 8, 2020

For children experiencing abuse or neglect, schools and support services are essential. With schools closed and stay-at-home orders in place until at least the beginning of May, we talk with those working with vulnerable children about how they're adapting to these challenges, and what we all can do to keep kids safe. 

If you suspect a child is experiencing abuse or neglect, please call 800-894-5533 or 603-271-6562.

Air date: Wednesday, April 8, 2020 from 9-10 a.m.

GUESTS:

  • Moira O'Neill - N.H.'s Child Advocate, a position created by the Oversight Commission on Children's Services.
  • Joseph Ribsam Jr - Director of the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families.
  • Borja Alvarez de Toledo - President and CEO of Waypoint, an independent nonprofit agency focused on the well-being of children.

Resources:

 "Supporting Child and Family Wellbeing during the COVID-19 Emergency" from N.H. DCYF

Waypoint Family Warm Line, offering a confidential non-emergency line to speak with a family support professional, M-F 8:30-4:30

Know & Tell: A Program by the Granite State Children's Alliance, which offers free online training about recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect, with recently updated information for supporting children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transcript

This is a machine generated transcript, and may contain errors.

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy. and this is The Exchange. Walking a tightrope without a safety net is how one advocate describes the situation. The state's vulnerable children are in these days with schools closed and stay at home orders in place. Teachers, guidance counselors, coaches and others can't catch the usual signs of abuse and neglect. These adults are often the first to report suspected problems at home. So with everything shut down and little close contact, it's no surprise that calls to the state's child abuse hotline have dropped off. And that's not a good sign. Today,on The Exchange could the coronavirus epidemic create a child abuse epidemic? Our guests are Moira O'Neill. She's the state's child advocate, a position created by the Oversight Commission on Children's Services and appointed by Governor Sununu.

Laura Knoy:
Also with us, Joe Ribsam, director of the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families, and Borja Alvarez de Toledo, president and CEO of Waypoint, an independent non-profit agency focused on the well-being of children and listeners. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you can call 6 0 3 2 7 1 6 5 6 2. Moira O'Neill to you first, please. What was the first thing that crossed your mind? A couple weeks ago, when you heard the state would be closing schools and we were all being asked to practice physical distancing and stayed home.

Moira O'Neill:
Thanks for that question, Laura. Thanks for having us on today. This is such an important conversation. I do want to say, though, first, that it's important that we recognize as tough as times are right now, these are also opportunities for families to really bond and actually have some good times in the bad. I know everyone's getting exhausted about these sort of negative conversations. But back to your question. Very important. As soon as I heard that schools were closing, I knew that we were going to lose a major safety net to children. Children spend most of their time in school surrounded by teachers and school nurses and guidance counselors. And those are the people who are checking in with kids every day to see if they're OK, if they're in distress because there's dysfunction at home. Those are the people who generally recognize it. And without them, children are going without that safety net.

Laura Knoy:
So those are the usual eyes that are on children that might see signs of a problem at home. So your first thought more about, just to summarize, was, OK, this is gonna be a challenge.

Moira O'Neill:
Yes, and I thought we really need to sort of sound the alarm because it's not something people really think about. You know, everybody thinks everyone goes along through their days and things are fine. You don't always see child abuse and neglect unless you know what you're looking for. So I thought it was really important that we start this conversation and just make sure that neighbors and grocery store clerks and the U.P.S. guy, we're all paying attention for signs that kids might be in distress.

Laura Knoy:
Now, that's interesting. And we'll definitely talk this hour about who else his eyes could be on children and how people can pay attention, even though we're all sort of staying inside and staying close to home. How about you? What went through your mind when all these announcements came down a few weeks ago?

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
So very similar to what Moira was saying. And I think it is we've had certainly situations with other tragedies, whether hurricanes in which there was no school. And we know the teachers are sort of the eyes and ears for the kids. But what's different about this pandemic is that there's many other services that are not happening. Seventy five percent of the services we provide that Waypoint are in the home or the community. So we are actually in the homes of these families, checking the environment, checking how they're doing, making sure they have food, looking at whether or not it's safe in the neighborhood. And we don't have the eyes on those families right now. And therapies are doing also their therapy virtually. So they don't see the kids. They don't see whether or not the signs of peruses or neglect or malnourishment. So it is larger than just the school system is many of the systems that have interaction with the kids that are not there to provide the structure and to provide sort of the support and the eyes to make sure that the kids and families are safe.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Borja. So 75 percent of the services that you provide at Waypoint are in the home. That's really interesting. What kind of services? Give us a little more there.

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
So there's a whole range of services we do. We do sort of provide support for new mothers and parenting groups and parenting support. We also do a lot of work with adolescents that are at risk of being placed out of the home, whether a hospitalized or in presidential programs. We do a lot of outreach for homeless and runaway youth with the only contract in the state to provide services for homeless youth. We also work actually with seniors and to home-based services for seniors to keep them at home. So and actually the reasons or the two reasons are main reasons around the home bases. You get a lot of information when you actually provide the services in the environment. You check the safety of the neighborhood, the conditions of the house. It gives you information that you don't have instead of the very septic environment of an office. But the other thing is really to provide access to those families. I mean, if you can imagine, a single mother with three kids ages 6, 4 and 2 trying to get services for a 6 year old and bringing the whole family for an hour session when we know transportation is not, you know, the best in some areas of New Hampshire. It just won't happen. So we know that if we want to provide those services, we actually need to go to the families.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Joe, Ribsam, Sam, you reported recently that the number of reports of child abuse has gone way down and that this was very concerning for you. So just explain why, Joe, please.

Joe Ribsam:
Sure. You know, when we look at the calls coming into our hotline over the past few weeks, really since schools closed and other measures put into place, we've seen a pretty steep decline from prior years. We've seen weeks. You know, for example, last last week, back in twenty nineteen, we received six hundred and twenty five reports last week. This year we received 300 reports.

Laura Knoy:
So half the amount you have about last week was a little more extreme in the prior weeks, but it's been about half the amount of reports coming in.

Joe Ribsam:
That being said, I think it's really, really important that folks think about, of course, if you suspect abuse or neglect, you call the hotline. But a lot of families out there are really struggling right now and in lots of other ways. One of the great things that's happening is lots of other resources have been stood up to try to support those families. So it's not just abuse or neglect. But I think we want our neighbors and our partners and everybody else to be looking for, but looking for those families who maybe they're not working the way they typically do or lots of other stressors and talk to them about what types of supports they might need. And, you know, we released a guy that I know was being published on your Web site that helps people find those other supports. But the easiest, quickest thing to do is directed to called 2-1-1, where they can help connect those families, the supports they need to make sure that families who maybe are not at that point where kids are being abused or neglected, but are really at a stressful position. And if we don't intervene now, they could end up crossing that tipping point. We want to make sure that doesn't happen.

Laura Knoy:
I've heard 2-1-1, though, Joe is pretty jammed up these days.

Joe Ribsam:
You know, there's a lot of there's a lot of pressure going there to get a lot of other resources that are on that go that folks can reach out to. The family resource centers are a great resource for everybody. Our great partner Borja is on the phone with us to set up a warm line to help support families and parents who are struggling with these pressures. So I think there's lots of other great resources out there. But it's important that we are throwing up all of these resources.

Laura Knoy:
Right. Well, and again, if you suspect a child is being abused or neglected is 2 7 1 6 5 6 2 again, 2 7 1 6 5 6 2. Here's a broad question that I want to ask all of you. And then I really want to hear about some of the specifics that you all are getting into to try to protect kids, even though you can't move as openly as we are used to be able to do. But more right to first. Does this situation being stuck at home? The stress of the pandemic, you know, economic concerns and so forth. Does that actually increase the likelihood that a child will suffer abuse or does this situation mean that there's maybe a longer stretch of time before somebody in the child's life recognizes that something's going on? You know, the teacher or the coach or for a child to seek help? So so which is it? That might cause a rise in child abuse. Is that the situation? Was it or is it there are fewer eyeballs on these children.

Moira O'Neill:
That's a that's a great question, Laura Knoy. And, you know, there's there's there's two answers to that. One is that there are families who are already struggling who are already at risk. They may already have, you know, economic instability or housing instability. They may be suffering with a member of the family was mental illness or some kind of substance use disorder. And so so this kind of a stress the pandemic creates is just putting them right over the edge. And that's the child who already should have been reporting. And we know that children don't actually report. That's why we need eyes on them. We know that those are the children. It's just generally who are at high risk. And now there's another level of people who, you know, were functioning OK. But now these new these new stresses are going to challenge them. And we don't realize how much we rely upon the school systems that have children for most of their waking hours. Right. I mean, really, children come home, they play a bit. They have dinner and they go to bed. But when they're awake and they're and they need attention, they're at the schools or they're at after school programs or they're working with providers like for his folks. And so now all of that is home in the house with parents who may just not be used to that and not have the coping skills. So there's several lower layers of people who are at risk. So that's just it. And that is what's been been missing in the data that that Director Gibson is talking about. We have normally a number of calls that come in that report. We would expect that that number would increase because we know that there's more stress at home and there's more dysfunction at home. And yet what we're seeing is a drop. So we're missing both of those groups of kids.

Laura Knoy:
Well, in how does being at home all together for longer stretches of time? How much does that give abusers more of an opportunity to perpetuate abuse without having to worry about, you know, grandma finding out or the teacher finding out?

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
Well, that's a great question. And I think part of what happens is, you know, we're all used to a structure in our lives. You know, we have jobs. We leave the house from eight to five or whatever it is, and the kids go to school. And that provides really a relief for all of us. And we have our social connections through that way. Right now, we've confined into small spaces. The kinds of families we work with are really disadvantaged and they don't have the best environments. And we have either parents that have lost their jobs. And we see the numbers of unemployment every single week that are really incredible or they have to figure out how to work from home in ways that they've never had to do. At the same time, they have to help their kids with school. So if you have a family that had already a lot of emotional stress, a lot of tensions and didn't know how to cope with these things. This is clearly exacerbated by the situation right now. But I will say, any normal family that doesn't have, you know, pre-existing situations or conditions or emotional stresses is feeling a certain level of stress. So it is almost like, you know, the perfect tsunami of families that are stressed are going to get more stress. And there's a risk for abuse in those situations. In other families that didn't experience anything like these are putting themselves at risk without the support.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Joe, I'd love your perspective on this, too.

Joe Ribsam:
Yeah, absolutely. You know, I reflect back somewhat on my time before I came here. I worked in New Jersey for a number of years and I was part of the team working on Superstorm Sandy response, the communities that were really decimated. And what really strikes me about this is that is how far reaching this is where it's not it's not to certain communities that are feeling this. It's going to be everywhere. It's going to be everyone. And that surveillance system, that ability to see kids like I don't lay eyes on kids. You know, in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy was about a week that we lost that ability and that things were back up and running again in most places. But in this instance, this is going to be an indefinite change. So we really need everybody, everybody out there to do their best to try to connect with kids and families, even though we have to monitor our social justice thing and make sure that we're we're following all of those rules to keep everybody safe. At the same time, we have to make sure we're staying social, whether that's, you know, across the picket fence or or or through video conferencing technology or anything else to build a checking on kids and families and make sure that they're getting the support that they need. And they're getting not just the economic resources that they need, but the moral support and the companionship and camaraderie that we all grow accustomed to an ordinary life, which is which is hard to this right now.

Laura Knoy:
Well, yeah, in a few minutes, I'd like to ask all of you how you suggest we all do that, given the constraints that you mentioned, Joe. But I also want to remind our listeners that you can join us as we talk about abuse and neglect for New Hampshire's children. There are social distancing, stay at home, orders and as we're hearing, it makes it a lot harder for the public to have their eyes on these kids. Teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, doctors and so forth. So we're looking at this concerns that child abuse and neglect will go up during this pandemic. There's a child you're concerned about. What would you like to know from our guests? So let's jump into that. And Moira, child advocates such as yourself always say that, quote, Every citizen in New Hampshire is a mandated reporter. First of all, just remind us what that means, because it sounds like a heavy responsibility.

Moira O'Neill:
It is a heavy responsibility, Laura. And it's really something that New Hampshire has made that commitment to children, that in some states it might just be nurses and teachers and doctors who are mandated reporters. But here in New Hampshire, we are all responsible to recognize and recognize the signs of abuse and neglect and report it to make sure our kids are gonna be safe. So knowing when a child looks like they are being abused or neglected sometimes is a little complicated for people. We are really lucky because we have a program here in New Hampshire called Know and Tell, which is about knowing the signs and telling about them knowing who to call. So no one told us or or their phone number is 6 0 3 8 6 4 0 2 1 6. They actually have a training program that's free online to learn the signs of abuse and neglect so that people know what they're looking for.

Laura Knoy:
So, Joe, you touched on this and I wanna hear from everybody. So how do we if we are all mandated reporters, as Moira describes, how do we do it when we're really not supposed to be going over to neighbors houses and visiting each other, you know, going up and talking to each other from a safe distance, maybe. But how do we do it now?

Joe Ribsam:
I think I think folks need to be creative about being connected. And we can still, still do that. Right. And schools are doing that right now with remote learning educators and that they're rote learning. Medical professionals are doing that through telehealth, you know, medical professionals. Another area where it's seen a steep decline in reports from medical professionals, law enforcement for these people, even though it might look different, neighbors still see people even with those neighbors or folks that you don't typically talk to, maybe the time to be a little bit brave and and reach out, you know, maybe knock on the door and step back 12 feet to make sure that, you know, you have some way to talk to that person and get a get a phone number that maybe you can then call them and connect with them to see if they're doing OK. You know, having those conversations, but being the support is key, and I think think about other people who are not our typical reporters. You know, my daughter, for example, was taking piano lessons by Zoom also. It can be a blessing to be using Zoom right now.

Laura Knoy:
So I think those folks who aren't typical, Joe, the reporters are people who now have eyes on kids and have kind of a special relationship with kids that a lot of other folks are not having right now.

Joe Ribsam:
They need to take advantage of these resources like no and tell him what he's going to be doing to try to find ways to connect connect people with the support they need to make sure everyone's people.

Laura Knoy:
Weldon, on board, I'd like to hear from you, too, on this. How is the general public supposed to report child abuse when children are largely shut up outside? I mean, kids are getting out and playing and so forth. But what do you think?

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
So I have to tell you. Programs like the one you're running today sort of letting letting people understand that we all have a responsibility as mandated reporters, that we have typically relied on teachers and other professionals to do these reporting. And now it's it's really on us. So we have to be vigilant. We have to watch. We have to look for signs. We have to educate ourselves about what it means. And surely for people that work at Waypoint that they're trying to provide these telehealth services in the most creative way so that we don't meet with the whole family with the screen right now. It's complicated. And you want to have time with a kid that's 7 year old and you engage with them in a different way and ask questions like, how is it going? How stressful it is, what you like the most, what you like the least. And really try to engage in illicit conversations that might give you some clues about what's happening in the homes.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Although and pardon me for, you know, consider in the worst case scenario for her. But when you're meeting with a child in his or her home, you know that you're alone in the room with that child if you're talking to a child. You know, we assume you've no idea. You know, the abusive uncle could be right in the corner.

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
You are absolutely right. And I think this is one of the things we need to, when we set up these calls, negotiate with families so that, you know, we know that a parent is, you know, has their own time and then hopefully we can have a child. But you need to be very, very careful of how you ask these questions. So and try to see if there's anybody in the room. Do you have time to talk to me alone? And be careful. Absolutely. Because we don't know who's around and we cannot check the environment the same way we would if we're in the home.

Laura Knoy:
Moreover, you mentioned kind of cut my interest delivery people. People are getting all sorts of stuff delivered that they used to just go out and buy themselves. But how would that even happen? How would the UPS person become a mandated reporter? And again, people in New Hampshire have a strong sense of privacy. And this is my home. And, you know, don't don't tell me what to do.

Moira O'Neill:
Right. They do a place. But I do think that people in New Hampshire are very committed to the health of children, too. So sort of switching gears in your daily role and just paying a little more attention to to who's around you noticing kids in the neighborhood and some of the things that you're looking for is physical appearance. If you see kids around. What's their affect like? Is their behavior different than what you'd normally seen? Do they engage with you from a distance? You know, I see kids out in my neighborhood right now and they're playing in the driveway and they're shouting to each other. So if I see something different, I might notice it.

Moira O'Neill:
It's just really important to think about why it's important. Of course, it's bad when children are harmed, but it's also long affected children. We know now who have adverse childhood experiences. We'll have poor health and poor employment possibilities and do poorly in school throughout their lifetimes. And why it's important for us to intervene as soon as we can is that it's really simple to counteract that. Number one, you want to get kids out of harm's way, but also you want to build resiliency in kids. And there are four things that Dr. Robert Saiki from from Tufts University has talked about a great deal. It's a great pediatrician. There are four things that really help children to be resilient and get through hard times. One is a caring adult, somebody who just notices a child and and and is interested in their well-being. The other is feeling valued when you do something as simple as asking a kid, hey, how's it going? Must be hard not going to school, right. That child immediately feels valued because the U.P.S. driver or the neighbor has stopped to just even greet them. Feeling a part of the community is also another thing that will give them resilience, saying to a child, hey, can you help pick up trash today or, you know, can you can you check in with your neighbor and see if they're OK? Because I know you know how to use Skype and school success, asking kids how they're doing in school, encouraging them it, knowing that things are tough and acknowledging that so that they feel like it's not just them.

Moira O'Neill:
When I heard Borja say earlier in our previous conversation that he was feeling really tired from all of this computer work, that made me feel better about what I was feeling. So sharing that with kids as well is going to give them that sort of uplift that they need so that they'll do better. And when you do recognize that they look like they're in distress, even if it's not abuse or neglect, do CYF will figure that out? They're the experts. Just call the number and say, look, I don't know if this is abuse or neglect, but I had a bad feeling when I saw this child. She looked really disheveled and unhappy.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, again, if you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, the number is 6 0 3 2 7 1 6 5 6 2. So coming up, we'll hear from our listeners, your comments and questions about how to help abused and neglected children when everyone is pretty much shut at home. Stay with us. This is The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. It's a two-part show today. In this first hour, we'll focus on kids facing abuse and neglect at a time of social distancing and stay at home orders. Then at 10:00. Adults facing domestic abuse and how complicated it can be to help them in the midst of this pandemic. We're talking today with Moira O'Neill. She's the state's child advocate. Joe Ribsam, he's director of the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families. And Borah Alvarez Dito, leader presidency. of Waypoint, an independent nonprofit focused on the well-being of children. And Joe, I want to ask you first, but also you bahat Joe, what usual tools, services, supports? Does DC y f have four families that are either no longer available or at least sharply curtailed home visits, for example? Are you still doing those?

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
Yeah. So and I think I want to reflect back on an earlier question to borehole as well around the curious, an area that you mentioned, Laura Knoy, where perhaps you have somebody who is a potential abuser and there is not the ability to see that child independently, that these CYF is, in fact, still able to go out in high risk situations. We are limiting the amount of time that we're going out to try to make sure that we preserve one, protect the people that we work with and to protect our workforce and make sure that we preserve our staff availability for those high risk situations. But in high risk situations, we are still going out seeing people face to face. We've curtailed the way that we do that a little bit. So trying to interview people outside or we can maintain social distance thing if we do have to enter a home touching surfaces, you know, just just trying to limit the way that we interact a little bit. But we will still go out. And we have lots of really remarkable, brave staff who are continuing to do that despite the challenges out there. So I'm incredibly grateful for for all of them, both of the child protection of the juvenile justice, those who are who are still going out at this time to to make sure their kids and families are safe and well.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. So you're still doing home visits.

Joe Ribsam:
Yeah. Yeah. And high risk situations. We're not doing it as frequently as we typically do. So I do want to make that clear. It's not it's not our business as usual approach. But if there's a high risk situation, we will still go out because, you know, it's important that we that we take care of these kids and families and we make sure that we identify those high risk situations that that you were alluding to. So that that is still occurring, although, as I said, maybe in a modified way and the less frequent way. Yeah. As far as services go, you know, a lot of our services are still available, billeting different as were mentioned. A lot of things are happening more remotely than we typically do.

Joe Ribsam:
At the same time, we've been working with some of our other providers that were mostly residential care on how to structure their programs to minimize risk of infection, encouraging them to really look at their populations and try to find, you know what, kids could maybe be faithfully supported at home with some additional, you know, maybe video telehealth paper approaches to support those kids and families to reduce that and those programs doing the same thing really on our side in the Youth Services Center, which is our secured, committed residential facility here in the state. So really trying to have everybody think about how do you support those kids and families who still need our help at this time? And how do you modify it to be as safe as you can and to adhere to those protocols?

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, Borja I'd like to hear from you, too. How do you think outside the box? You told us earlier that 75 percent of the services you provide families in normal times are in the home. So how are you sort of trying to do this effectively, remotely, or at least from a safe distance?

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
So great question. Well, the first thing we had to do we were facing is when three weeks ago we decided that we were going to send our 300 employees home and have them work remotely if we needed to make sure that they had the equipment they needed to actually work remotely because not everybody had a laptop. Not everybody had a cell phone. And we need to train them in these new videoconferencing tools, whether it's school or more teams or any of those. So that was in itself a challenge. But then I have to say, our staff are incredibly creative and they have engaged with these families and the families have really responding very well to being connected through these videoconferencing or Zelma, whatever it is. And one of the things we've noticed is that the length of the sessions is actually shortened because it's hard to keep your attention, especially when you have in the back of your home all kinds of distractions for a long time. But what we've noticed is that we've actually increased the frequency. So we check with these families more often and maybe for like shorter periods of time. And the families are really responding very well. There's actually a program where it's a little more complicated and we're trying to figure out how to do it, which is this supervised visits that we have with. Parents that have lost custody of the kid and the kid might be in foster care. And typically what we would have done is pick up the child in the foster care home, bring it to our office, have, you know, the birth parents come and do a face to face visit? We cannot do that for many reasons. We will put too many houses at risk. So we're trying to connect the kids with their parents remotely. But the truth is, what they really want is to be in the room and give their kids a hug and interact and play with them. So that's posing a little bit more complications in terms of agreement and service.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. Yeah. So what I wonder, though, maybe the upside is and you seem to be hinting at this sometimes I know for these family visits and so forth and especially it involves a trip to, you know, an office. People can't come because of child care issues or transportation issues. But I wonder if people are keeping their appointments more reliably because all they could do is turn on the computer.

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
Well, I mean, I think our our staff, are saving time travelling. So they had a bit more flexibility because they don't like go from home to home. So that's one that they have sometimes more flexibility in their hours. And the families are pretty much stuck in the home. So we work around their schedules and we're flexible. We want to make sure that the kids do their homework and their education and they're engaged in education where we can work around. And our experience is that the families are really enjoying connecting and keeping connected with us. And, you know, we're also giving tips that are sort of a little bit different, like things like structure we've never had to have, you know, how do you structure eight hours of the day where you have to home school and do all the things and work at the same time? So a lot of what we're doing is providing workers with resources so that can help families with providing these new ways of structuring their day to day and avoid really the conflict that comes with living in close quarters and confined.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. So it sounds like some families are grateful for that advice about structure and how to navigate. I think everybody at this point, you know, would be grateful for a little advice on how to structure, you know, if we can all use.

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
Yeah, we can use some of that ourselves. Sure.

Laura Knoy:
Well, again, our number for listeners to join us is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Join us as we talk about child abuse and neglect and whether we will see that rise as a result of stay at home orders and everyone being basically closed up in their homes and in their neighborhoods. Sue sent us an email. She says, How does CASA Court appointed special advocates work in this environment? And Sue, it's a great question. And Moira, I'll throw it to you. First, just for listeners who aren't familiar with CASA. If you could talk about what CASA does and then answer Sue's questions. It's an important one.

Moira O'Neill:
Sure. Thank you. That is a great question because the causes are so important in children's lives were involved in child protection. And when a when a child is removed from their home because their parents were found to be abusive or neglectful of them, they're appointed a course of a court appointed special advocate. And that person is becomes engaged with the child and is monitoring how that how does CYF is serving them and are able to inform the courts about what the child needs that's in their best interest. So it's it's really a very, very important role. Oftentimes, it's one of the most consistent adults in a child's life who's involved in child welfare. So they often will meet with kids.

Moira O'Neill:
I believe they have to see that kids at least once a month, they go to all the meetings and really get to know the kid and and what the kid is interested in and what they need in terms of services. And also in preparing to return home or not.

Moira O'Neill:
And so my understanding is that that CASA also has had to make this shift to virtual meetings and trying to keep in touch with kids as much as they can. Wherever kids are placed there. Director Gibson has put out some really good guidance to everyone about how to stay in touch without exposing kids. So a lot of virtual meetings, whether it's through video chatting or through telephones, but important conversations. And I think the point that Warhol made that they're not needing to travel quite so much, they are able to have a few more conversations and checking in, then they might typically do well.

Laura Knoy:
We looked a couple it was last week we looked at the criminal justice system and how that has had to change. So, Moira, is anybody even holding court sessions anymore? You know, in these cases of child abuse or neglect? Is there a physical? Is there a physical court session going on or not?

Moira O'Neill:
Yeah. The world as we know it, Laura, has completely changed. Really interesting. And I have I have a suspicion that it's never going to be the same again. But some of it will be good. The courts have had to cancel thousands of hearings and proceedings. But they are now doing some. They do they do some meetings in person that are sort of high importance and they are doing virtual meetings as well. So they're starting to sort of ramp up their availability. They're going to have a long docket line because there are a lot of cases that have been delayed, but that's just how things are going. But important things. Things like ex-party removals, those are happening and a lot of them are starting up to be over the phone or by video conference as with them. You know, we're seeing legislative changes to and how they're meeting.

Laura Knoy:
So removal from removal from the home order, that's really important if a child is in danger. That's still going on, Maura.

Moira O'Neill:
Yes, absolutely. I mean, obviously, you really need to be able to be in touch with the courts because DCYF, a lot of people get mad at DCYF for the things they do, but they actually can't do things like remove a child from their home without a court order. So it's really the court that directs much of child welfare. And so they are they are available. And there always has been some virtual availability of courts, you know, an off hours. There's usually a judge who's on call when there's an emergency order necessary, when something happens in the middle of the night. So I do think that the courts are adjusting. I think it's been complicated, as it has been for all of us. But I think they're coming along.

Laura Knoy:
Well, thank you, Sue, for the email. It's a really important point. And Emily writes, With more people at home and under increased stress, there seems to be a greater likelihood for increased alcohol and substance use, especially around children. Emily says liquor stores are considered essential, so there is still access to alcohol. Increased alcohol use has been linked to domestic violence, she says. Are the participants seeing concerns with increased substance use? Are there suggestions for children who might be around parents whose substance use has increased? Wow. Emily, thank you for writing and Borja that one to you.

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
So we know that in term, in times like these, yes, alcohol consumption increases and it is clearly linked to domestic violence and is clearly linked to abuse of kids. So we again, we need to make sure that we check with kids and we ask when it's safe and appropriate if things have changed, if there's concerns and report when when we can and we hear different. But surely that is one of the concerns. And we know that it's a trigger, a precursor to domestic violence and abuse.

Laura Knoy:
Well, coming up, we will find out more about Foster Care kids in those situations, group homes and the connection between child abuse and intimate partner abuse, because that's what we'll be talking about in our two of The Exchange today. Thank you for those e-mails. Sue and Emily, keep them coming in.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. It's a two part show today. This hour, we're focusing on kids facing abuse and neglect at a time of social distancing and stay at home orders. Then at 10 o'clock. Adults in domestic abuse situations. Let's hear from you this hour as we focus on kids. If you have experience with this issue or are concerned about a child you know, send us an email. And a reminder to listeners, if you suspect a child is being abused or neglected. Call 2 7 1 6 5 6 2 again 6 0 3 2 7 1 6 5 6 2. That number and many other resources are on our web site that NHP YA dot org slash exchange. We have three guests for the hour with us. Borja Alvarezde Toledo, President and CEO of Waypoint, Joe Ribsam, Director, the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families. And Moira O'Neill, she's the state's child advocate. And I want to turn to you Borja. What about homeless youth? I can only imagine what they're going through. Where are they sheltering at this time, given all the restrictions that we face?

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
Great question. And I think the homeless population is one of the only groups of people that we serve that we actually continue to have some limited but face to face contact. So we have a drop in center in Manchester and we keep that open is it's not functionally exactly the same because we have it open on limited hours and what we do is schedule specific appointments. But this is where these youth come for food, for clothing, for sort of basic needs. So what we don't have is the youth center be sort of these hanging place where kids can sort of write their resumes on a computer apply for a job. But it is a very complicated situation for a number of things. One is many of these youth. What they do is they couch surf. They go from friend to friend, neighbor or family, extended family. And they spend maybe a week here, week there. That is no longer possible. I mean, those homes are not opening themselves to being exposed to someone that is living on the streets. The other thing we know is that these youth tend to sort of, you know, group together when they sleep for safety reasons that they are higher risk than this.

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
There's reports already in New York, Boston and L.A. that sort of indicate that the prevalence of COVID-19 in this population is really, really high. And they also have historically less access or bad access to health care. So it's a really complicated situation right now. And we have our outreach team, which is the boots on the ground, you know, walking up and down and finding these kids and sort of keeping obviously the distance but engaging them to see what needs they have. But many of them spend their days in sort of public spaces where there is a Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. And this is where they get their Wi-Fi connections because their data plans don't have enough phone minutes because they can't afford that. They've lost the jobs within hospitality. So we're struggling to connect with them. And I have to be really thankful to the charitable foundation because they actually just gave us a grant so that we can actually put technology in the hands of these youth so we can actually keep connected with them because otherwise there was no way for us to connect with them.

Laura Knoy:
I'm impressed that you are maintaining the drop in center for homeless youth in Manchester Borja I wonder. You know, you said you've limited the hours. How about the staffing? I mean, how are you making that work? And I totally hear you on the fact that, you know, homeless youth do tend to hang together just for protection. So, you know, social distancing for them is not really a huge concern thing.

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
So we so we actually rather than having the center open on certain hours and anybody can come, we actually schedule the youth. So they come, you know, staggered and they come at sort of an appointment times. And we don't have all of this stuff in our center. And they keep their distance. And the youth are really expected to go in, get the food that they need, a pair of boots, coat, whatever, and actually leave right away and not hang out either outside or inside the center. So we're trying to regulate as much as possible. But these are basic needs they cannot go without food. So we felt like we needed to keep our center open and, you know, take all the precautions that we can.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Joe, what about foster homes? What's the status right now of foster care homes opening up for abused kids? You know, if a child needs to be removed from a home, a dangerous situation, typically he or she is put in a foster home. But given that we're all told to sort of just stick with our immediate families, how's that going, Joe?

Joe Ribsam:
Yes, foster care has been something that we've been focused on for a long time here. And certainly we we we need more Foster homes, so if folks are are interested. Certainly now's a great time to apply. We've been in touch with our foster parents and remarkably have asked foster parents about their willingness to serve kids who may come into care, who are symptomatic.

Joe Ribsam:
But maybe you are not known to have COVID-19, asking about kids who are maybe on quarantine status, but because they were exposed but aren't known to have COVID-19 and even ask them about their willingness to serve kids who might be diagnosed. Fortunately, we have many kids that fall into that category, but we got foster parents responding to all of those categories that they'd be willing to serve those population, which is really remarkable and a testament to the dedication of our foster care community. It's really amazing. I think the other key point here is that we really do try to look for a family to place children with. They have to come into care. That's really the best thing. The least traumatic thing to do is if we can find relative, a grandparent, an uncle who who's able to care for that child, that that's often the best solution. And that's also something that's always explored when a child has to come into care. So certainly it's something we're monitoring closely and something that does that. But I do worry about as this goes on, but so far, I'm really impressed by the dedication of our foster parent community.

Laura Knoy:
So does a child, Joe, if he or she again, needs to go into a foster home. Does does that child get tested for COVID-19 before he or she is placed so that the family knows that well, at least knows what they're dealing with?

Joe Ribsam:
Yes. Right now, the testing protocols for foster kids are comparable to other other groups.

Joe Ribsam:
So if there's, you know, high risk factors, symptomology and things like that, certainly the testing protocols will go into place. But at this point, for a typical child, that is symptomatic. That wouldn't be that wouldn't be required. All right.

Laura Knoy:
Here's an e-mail that came in from Kristen, and Moira, I will put this to you.

Laura Knoy:
Kristen says, I was curious the opinions and thoughts about what families should do in co-parenting situations when possible risk of exposure in one home due to parent choices in that home. Should families still follow their, quote, parenting plan or keep the child safe, healthy and protected from possible neglect? You know, Moira, I have heard about this from other families concerned about shared situations.

Laura Knoy:
And, you know, one parent isn't that thrilled with the way that the other parent is, you know, taking how seriously they're taking Coronavirus. I wonder what you think about that.

Moira O'Neill:
Yeah. Thank you, Laura. You know that that is a good question. I would say that there's been an uptick in the number of calls to DCYF from families. That's one of the one of the categories of people that have increased during this experience. And it seems as though this is one of the questions that they're calling about my office. Also, the office of the Child Advocate is receiving more and more calls with people who are concerned about visiting and co-parenting situations. So so it's not an easy answer. I would I would urge parents to use the same protocols that everyone else is using. If you are a family that is is isolating and not exposed anywhere on both sides, then yes, visitation is probably still something that you can continue. But if you can't be sure that someone is visiting properly in terms of having exposures, we had a call this week from someone who is concerned because the other parent had visitors from Massachusetts where we know there's a high incidence right now. And so I can understand those concerns. I would urge parents to sort of get beyond their their conflict and try to come to some agreement about virtual visits or at least tried to make sure that they're keeping kids safe on both ends. If people think that another parent is being purposefully risk-taking, it's certainly something that you could bring to DCYF to work through with the experts there. But whether or not that's a form of neglect in terms of not taking extra precautions. But the best case scenario right now, because we know it's it has a very negative effect on children when parents are in conflict would be to try to work it out.

Moira O'Neill:
And they can certainly go back to the courts and change the parenting plan and the visitation plan as well. So it's really a matter of people trying to be reasonable. But while I I have the mike, I'd also like to go back just quickly to the question about alcohol and substance use in general. When we think about abuse and neglect and we're trying to get the message out on what people should recognize. I think most people think about abuse and neglect as bruises or a child who's malnourished. But there's also sometimes practices that happen that people really don't intend to be abusive or neglectful. And tragedy happens. So increased use of alcohol or other substances during the day. People who have routines that are substantially changed. So they're home during the day. We're all streaming Netflix during the day. We're taking naps in the middle of the day. So that kind of change in routine might make us less vigilant about care in particular with infants. So if I have one message to get across here, it's not just about hitting children. It's also about practicing safe childcare. So the co-sleeping issue where people are taking a nap on that on the sofa with with an infant tucked in with them is a very, very dangerous. And we have seen children die from co-sleeping accidents. So I would encourage people to think beyond just getting along with all the family members and not not hitting children and operating them. But also, if you have an infant in the home, make sure that you know that children must sleep. They must go back to sleep. Infants have to be on their backs without anything around them when they're sleeping. And they should never be sleeping with you on a sofa or even in your bed. They should be in their own bed sleeping on their back.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and, you know, that's. I'm glad you raised that, because we have been talking more about abuse, but neglect is an issue and sometimes done. You know, just because you didn't know, you didn't realize or as you said, more about your whole schedule has changed. And so you're just not paying attention and following the same routines that you always do.

Laura Knoy:
So I really appreciate you raising that point. I also appreciate this. A very serious topic more. I appreciate the levity that your dog added to our conversation today. So thank you for that. And Christine, thank you for the email. You know Borja I wanted to ask you. The governor recently put, I think, two million dollars toward vulnerable children in this time recognizing that we could see more child abuse, abuse and neglect going on. What do you hope this money goes for?

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
Well, I mean, there's a number of programs that have been established. We actually Waypoint are doing one of them, which is we established a family support warm line so that anybody that is feeling any stress can actually call 1 800 6 4 0 6 4 8 6 and get an appointment with a family support specialist. And actually walk a family through. How are you doing? What are the stresses? Let me give you some tips about routine. So that's one of them. There's many other programs that you know, and Joe might know more about the specific of those. But I think it is really important for the governor to recognize that this is a time of stress, that this is a time in which abuse can increase. And we know the calls are coming down by 50 percent. And I think any resources that we can have to support families around this time is absolutely welcome.

Laura Knoy:
So one last question for you. So next hour, we'll be looking at adults facing domestic abuse in New Hampshire. Concerns about them in your work for how with children and families. How often is there a connection between child abuse and intimate partner abuse?

Borja Alvarez de Toledo:
Oh, it is. It is actually very, very often. And as we know, just living in an environment, even if the kids are not abused, where the kids are witnessing violence between the parents, this is obviously an adverse childhood experiences and creates a level of toxic stress that is really hard for kids and it affects their ability to to learn, to socialize, to be emotionally regulated. So this is whether or not the kids end up being abused in circumstances of domestic violence. They could really affected by just being in an environment where there is violence. And it's they they really worry about their own safety and their mother or father safety.

Laura Knoy:
Well, has been really good to talk to you. We'll talk again. Thank you. Thank you for having me. That was Borja Alvarez de Toledo, president and CEO of Waypoint. Moira, Last question for you. Similar to what I asked Borja, How often does abuse of a child mean that there is abuse of an adult partner going on as well? What have you seen?

Moira O'Neill:
Yeah, that that's also a really good question. Laura, you know that the data that came out of Wuhan, China, was that there was an astronomical increase in domestic violence and child abuse. They certainly do go together. And particularly in these times of stress and they'll say, you know, Joe mentioned the Superstorm Sandy. And I've been thinking about all these times when we lose electricity in New England, you sort of come out of your house and think about, oh, well, this will be over soon. But right now, we don't see an end in sight.

Moira O'Neill:
We don't know what it's going to look like. So it's really important that people are supported and that they know that they have an opportunity to get help if they need it. So I would encourage people to call the all of the numbers that we've given to get help. I think you're going to have a conversation shortly about domestic violence. It's really important that parents who are in abusive situation know that they can get help and they can get help for their children as well. I think that the data that we're seeing at DCYF is that there is an uptick in the number of calls coming in that have domestic violence involved as well as the substance use. So people really need to take care and we need to be watching for our neighbors if they look like they need help. We should call and get them help.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Moira, thank you. And we will be talking to you again, too, I'm sure. Thank you very much for giving us your time today.

Moira O'Neill:
Thank you, Laura. You've been great throughout this whole pandemic. We appreciate you.

Laura Knoy:
Well, you're welcome. That was Moira O'Neill. She is the state's child advocate and Joe Ribsam, last question for you as we head into our second hour. You work with children and families. Again, you're the head of the Division of Children, Youth and Families. How might addressing child abuse also help intimate partner abuse?

Joe Ribsam:
Well, thank you. It's a really great question. As Moira alluded to, and as I think your caller or emailer earlier, Emily alluded to, we are seeing where everything else is going down. In cases where there is a link to co occurrence of child abuse, allegations related to domestic violence and related to substance use are holding steady and in some instances in domestic violence particular really going up. So I think there's some great resources, as Borja alluded to in the emergency order around expanding our family violence prevention specialist program.

Joe Ribsam:
So we have more folks available to work on those intersections where we have a crisis center staff who are co-located not physically right now electronically with their child protection. Similarly, around substance use programs.

Joe Ribsam:
But I think really what what folks need to do is is just keep checking in on each other, making sure that people realize that there's not shame to struggle and there's not seem to be a tough position and that we need to look out for each other, connect each other to the resources we need. And just just to help us get through this.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Joe, I hope we talk to you again as well. We really appreciate you being with us today. Thank you. That's Joe Ribsam, director of the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families. Coming up, a second hour of The Exchange, how the workplace shutdowns and stay at home Orders affect adults facing domestic abuse and where women and men who are being abused by partners can go even in the midst of a pandemic.