Advocates say domestic violence, child abuse victims more at risk during pandemic

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Non-profits across the metro are acting fast to help domestic violence victims and children in need. They say reporting numbers are down, and while you’d think that would be positive, during the COVID-19 pandemic it is alarming.

With schools closed for the foreseeable future, and a stay-at-home order in place, advocates say many are left at risk.

Joyce Grover is the executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. She’s been in touch with all of the shelters on the Kansas side, and wants victims to know there is a way out, and people are there to help if you need it.

“Figuring out how to reach out for help, and if things get worse, and you try to figure out how to leave that situation that’s going to be very complicated as well,” Grover said.

Initially, Grover said the hotline calls went down, but are now starting to go up. She says this could be for a number of reasons: people not realizing they are open, domestic disputes coming to a head, or a number of other possibilities. Grover says no shelters have closed, and hotlines are open with people waiting to take calls as they come in.

“Our services have not closed,” Grover said. “We’re here twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. We will continue to provide the services to the best of our ability while this whole crisis is going on.”

While domestic violence calls may be going up, child welfare calls in Jackson County are drastically low. Angie Blumel, the president & CEO of Jackson County CASA says the Department of Social Services told her report numbers are cut in half.

“Since March 11th they’ve seen a decrease by about fifty percent in the calls,” Blumel said.

She says she believes this number is due to kids being inside and not interacting with teachers, doctors, and other mandated reporters. Blumel says once the pandemic is over they expect the numbers to go higher than they were before.

We believe we will be busier than ever,” Blumel said. “We will have more kids in care than ever before because of what’s happening right now, so we need volunteers to step up.”

CASAs, or court appointed special advocates, are volunteers who go through specialized training to advocate for foster children. When a person becomes a CASA volunteer they also become a sworn member of their county’s court. CASAs work directly with one child in care at a time, and look at all aspects of their life to help improve it. The ultimate goal of a CASA is to reunite the child with their family, and ultimately help the judge decide how to make decisions for the child’s benefit.

Training to become a CASA traditionally happens over around a five week period with once a week classes in person. However, during the pandemic the organization is offering online training for volunteers through Zoom meetings. Blumel says it is a perfect opportunity for someone at home who normally would not be able to take time off to attend regular trainings.

“We’re confident it will be a positive experience for our volunteers,” Blumel said. “They will absolutely get the information they need to be prepared to be a court appointed special advocate.”

Current CASAs are also affected by the outbreak. Normally, they would visit their child in person at least once a month, but now they are not allowed to see the children in person. Blumel says advocates are finding creative ways to keep up with their kids.

“Through things like FaceTime, or text messages, or zoom meetings, or good old fashioned notes and letters and cards,” Blumel said. “Our volunteers are stepping up in ways big and small, and I’m so proud of our CASA volunteers and staff.”

Both Grover and Blumel want victims to know help is here, and everyone can do their part even from home.

If you are a victim of domestic violence in Kanas and need help you can reach out to Grover’s organization here. For resources in Missouri, you can contact the Hope House organization.

If you are interested in becoming a CASA, you can find resources for Missouri here, and for Kansas here.

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