I’ve been wrestling with writing this blog post. Wrestling because the last thing I ever want to do is misrepresent a child or harm their dignity. I am very sensitive to objectifying the lives of the children we are called to serve. This, however, is a story that must be told.
In many parts of the developing and middle income world, the impact from the pandemic has been completely devastating. It has prematurely ended lives, disrupted economies and forever altered societies. This is particularly true for families who – even before the great challenges of COVID – were barely finding the services and supports they needed.
Families living in the experience of poverty with a substance use disorder or mental health condition. Families living day-to-day with limited access to opportunity. Families without support. Many of these families now find themselves thrust into home schooling, scrapping together a meager income through day labor work, and struggling to feed and care for their children.
Through this breakdown – we are witnessing an increase in the number of abandoned children. We’re receiving increased requests to place children in our two Casa Girasoles homes. We’re seeing an increase in children experiencing abuse and violence. We are witnessing an unraveling of the social safety nets.
We welcomed a new boy to one of the Casa Girasoles in the midst of COVID-19. I will not mention the home or disclose any identifying information. I owe him his anonymity. He is 8 years old. He comes from a rural community high in the mountains. I received a photo of him along with a short note. The photo shows a shy little boy who seems uncertain where to stand or how to pose for his picture. The house director, who sent me and other members of our team the photo, mentioned – “we now have a new family member.”
The photo is jarring. Not for what it shows – but for what it doesn’t. The hidden story. Separate from the photo sent to the team – was a message and photo sent only to me. It is a terrible photo. A photo of horrific abuse. It is a photo that tells the story of unspeakable trauma. The photo shows burns – third degree, disfiguring burns over the lower extremity of a small child. The photo is of the 8 year old boy we welcomed as a new family member.
The story is complex. The family has been deeply impacted by COVID. Without work, food, or support – things have been desperate for everyone. The boy was bed wetting. The mother, unable, incapable, unwilling – burned the boy in an attempt to stop him from bed wetting. The burns are horrific. It is a photo a person can’t unsee. It is a photo of pain. It is a photo that represents too many nameless, faceless children who are truly suffering.
A recent study by the World Health Organization estimates that globally, one out of two children experience some form of violence. That is an incredible statistic. An equally compelling report from the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, finds the impact of violence against children will worsen under COVID-19. Worsen! It is not an exaggeration to say there is a crisis going on.
This is why our work is more important than ever. We are developing a multi-year research study to define the best practices, supportive services and areas of knowledge that can help child welfare workers, residential care facility caregivers and families end cycles of violence and build better pathways to attachment and resilience. Our hope is to research the model, codify our findings, demonstrate the impact of our efforts, and help to change child welfare services. It is an ambitious project. And, it is a desperately needed model.
There are literally millions of children impacted by abuse and violence everyday. The COVID-19 global pandemic is making things far worse. We must work together to end the victimization and traumatization of children. We must build better services and supports for the most vulnerable, precious lives in our communities. We need to assure the safety nets of our communities have the strength they need to catch everyone.
We must do better. We must do more. We owe this commitment to our new Casa Girasoles family member and the millions of children suffering in the shadows of this pandemic.