Local experts say safer at home order not necessarily helping with child abuse

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – The safer at home order is designed to keep as many people, including children, as safe and healthy as possible.

But the added stress on caregivers and parents during the pandemic could make child abuse more likely.

“So part of the safer at home is that some of our kids are not safer at home,” Child Abuse Prevention Task Force chairperson Nicole Milliren said.

The pandemic is making it more difficult for some kids to get help in-person.

“Because they are living with a maltreater, they also don’t have access to safe people to tell,” Milliren said.

Milliren says the county’s human services usually gets between 15 to 16-hundred referrals a year.

“Right now, I understand that there has not been an increase of referrals to human services,” Milliren said. “But that’s not to say that abuse and neglect is not happening at a higher rate.”

But child protective services manager Tracy Puent says help will continue to be available.

“We still have requirements of required face-to-face contact with families that we still have to make,” Puent said. “We do have the ability obviously to do phone contacts with families to check in on them regularly. The other thing we’ve been doing is video conferencing with families.”

And there’s still many ways that children can feel connected to their community.

“Actually I’m hearing a lot of teachers sending self-addressed envelopes to their students,” Milliren said. “You know, you could do something as simple as taking sidewalk chalk and chalk a positive message in front of their house.”

Puent adds going outside is another good alternative.

“You know, going for a hike, those sorts of things,” Puent said.

Child abuse may seem like a never-ending problem, but it’s those small things that can help bring hope to children in our community.

“It just helps people feel less isolated, and know that they’re not forgotten,” Milliren said.

If you believe a child is being abused or is at risk, you are asked to call La Crosse County Human Services at (608)-784-HELP.