Protecting children during the COVID-19 pandemic
The Coronavirus pandemic is challenging our communities in ways we could never have imagined and it's leaving vulnerable children and youth at greater risk than ever before. Their safety stretches well beyond the need to protect them from the virus.
Unfortunately, quarantine measures against COVID-19 that restrict daily routines, such as school and daycare closures, disrupt children's habits and social support. They also place increased stress on parents and caregivers.
The concern is the amplification of the many pressures that children already face leave them more vulnerable and cause greater potential for them to seek escape.
Here are some of the risks MCSC sees that children and youth face at this time:
- Increased risk of exploitation and human trafficking – children and youth will be spending more time online and face higher exposure to predators
- Increased exposure to domestic violence – quarantine measures prevent children from accessing safe environments
- Increased access to drugs and alcohol use
- Mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety and isolation – factors that heighten the risk of children running away
- The longer a child is missing, the greater his or her exposure to public health concerns
- Detachment from education and school support programs leaves them vulnerable to making risky decisions
As a parent or caregiver, it's important to watch for signs of distress in children that could factor into a decision to run away. It's also a critical time to keep track of who children, especially teens, are communicating with online.
There's no doubt this will be especially challenging at this time, as everyone in the family is under increasing stress due to lockdowns and concerns about COVID-19, but it could be critical.
Here are some signs to watch for:
- Change in mood or behavior
- Rebellious or reckless behaviors increasing
- Unwillingness to share activities or friends met online
- Inability or unwillingness to cope with, or attend school
- Drastic changes in appearance
- Becoming involved with gangs or unexpected change in groups of friends
- Self-harming behavior
- Saving money or keeping belongings in a bag/packing up belongings
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