PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — As families are being forced to stay home a lot more than normal, the numbers of domestic violence are on the rise in the area.
However, reported cases of child abuse and sexual assault have dropped but officials with the Children’s Advocacy Center say that’s not a true representation.
“Our team is very concerned with families who have increased stress, children who have decreased visibility and we worry very much about the circumstances families are in today,” said Executive Director Lori Allen.
As children are being seen less by people outside the home, the clear signs of abuse aren’t seen.
“I can’t imagine having that type of chronic stress and not having the ability to ask for help or seek help or being confined in a space without the avenue for help and that’s why we’re doing as much as we can to reach individuals. We’re certainly concerned about the volume that we’ll see once children become visible again,” Allen said.
She is encouraging everyone if they see something, say something as the smallest amount of information can help save a life.
“We’ve already had a few cases where individuals had courage and they saw something that is not right and not okay and they reported it. Even if it’s just a tag number or description or where someone was before, it’s made a huge difference and helped saved the lives of those who were in danger,” she said.
Allen says they have never stopped servicing their clients who are healing from their abuse, switching to virtual therapy sessions. When it comes to newly reported cases, though, the center is still assessing individuals in person.
While the center is committed to keeping people safe and also help them heal from trauma, another focus is education.
“The one thing that were missing is that social interaction. This is child abuse prevention and sexual assault awareness so we didn’t have a huge impact on service delivery, we are seeing a huge impact on how we’re able to reach those that need us and then educate folks in that way,” Allen said.
She says their team has created digital content to highlight the signs of when a child is in danger and also how to help them. These materials have been distributed to different school districts, Girls Inc. and the Boys and Girls Club.
Allen says it’s important for people of all ages, not just adults, to know it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep each other safe.
“For those kids who may be listening, there are multiple ways that you can get help. There’s phone lines, and text someone you know. We’ve had several kids reach out to a friend and if you’re that friend that someone confides in, you need to let a safe adult know what’s going on so the proper authorities can help.”
Allen says they are preparing every day for the time they can open their doors completely again and asking for donations.
While monetary donations are always welcome, Allen says they are asking for snacks to be donated. With children being physically out of school, they may soon spend more time at the center, meaning they’ll be asking for more snacks.
If you’re able to donate in any way, click here and then email the center for more information.
The center is also hosting a virtual Abuse Prevention walk on April 30. For more information on that, click here.